Monday, May 9, 2011

Big PJ Harvey geek-out time!

Running through PJ Harvey's album spread, from Dry to Let England Shake, she's not only one of the most versatile musicians around – a grungy soloist, a pop singer, a piano balladeer – but she's gone through enough phases to divide her audience into so many categories. Not in the Woody Allen sense, that she's had a clear cut “good period” and “bad period,” because she is too careful about her work to allow such a thing, but in the sense that one might prefer her wailing toughly to “Rub 'Til it Bleeds,” while another might prefer the delicate precision of her voice on “Is This Desire?” and a third might prefer the way she goes apeshit on “Taut.” How many singers or musicians could you say, with equal breath, are both tougher and more elegant than you? She stands alone, save, perhaps, for her frequent collaborator, John Parish, who works similar magic.

I'd first heard PJ Harvey at something like nine years old, when I caught Beavis and Butthead making Family Ties references (“hey look, it's Mallory”) during an airing of “50 Ft. Queenie.” Admittedly, I didn't give much thought to her except to associate her with Justine Bateman, until I rediscovered her at fifteen. And, my god, to run across 4-Track Demos saved me from what could have been additional years of MxPx and Sum 41. In her early 20s she sounded powerful, tough, quirky, aware of both her sexuality and her strength.

Since then, she's shown herself to be a brilliant singer not only due to her versatility, but because she's one of few singers who can effectively act with her voice. Sure, she can imitate, and she's garnered tons of Patti Smith comparisons – she also hiccups like Siouxsie on “Let England Shake,” and channels, of all people, Sarah Brightman on “On Battleship Hill.” But she acts. On “Shame,” she sounds shaken up. Listen to the desperation coming through “C'mon Billy” or “Send His Love to Me.” Or the comedienne that shines through her growls on “Maniac” and “Claudine, the Inflatable One.” I could go on for days. And it would be pointless because you already know how brilliant she is.

That said, while I'd love to promote the fuck out of Let England Shake, it seems to be faring just fine. So I'll share a recording of a concert that Harvey and her band performed in London in 2004, an acoustic show that includes, among others, a great version of the unreleased “Uh Huh Her” and a Fall cover.

PJ Harvey - Live in London 2004 (full download)

And of course, some marvelous bonus downloads:

PJ Harvey - Daddy

PJ Harvey - Airplane Blues (with John Parish)

PJ Harvey - Maniac

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