Tag Archive: PJ Harvey


pj-harvey

Whenever an artist goes on tour, every fan is coming up with her or his own personal wishlist of what songs they want to hear. There are the expected hits and the new album tracks, but what else will be performed? Will there be a live debut of an old album track? Will a b-side be brushed off for the first time in a decade? These are the songs that deserve a comeback. This is “Play It Live!”

With her new album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, PJ Harvey is set to embark on her first tour in four years. Now on her ninth album, there are tons of songs that are due for a resurgence. Given the heavier and rougher vibe found on her latest LP, some of her older, blues and punk-inspired tracks may fit better with the new material than Let England Shake. With her tour set to kick off in France on June 1, here are 10 songs that I hope will make an appearance.

A Perfect Day Elise
Last Played In: 2004
Is This Desire? is one of Harvey’s most underrated works and A Perfect Day Elise is one of the record’s masterpieces. With an almost beatbox rhythm and shimmering guitar, it signaled an evolution from the in-your-face blues of To Bring You My Love. When Harvey rises above the claustrophobic musical atmosphere for the chorus, it’s an instantly memorable moment. Many casual fans may not be familiar with this song or this record. A comeback here would give Harvey a chance to fix that.

Good Fortune
Last Played In: 2010
It’s no surprise to anyone going to a PJ Harvey show that it can get a bit intense, particularly given the lyrical source of the last two albums. So, what better way to add a sense of relief than with this pop-rock song that is one of the catchiest Harvey has ever written. With lines about Chinatown, Little Italy and the like, it should at least make an appearance when she plays New York City.

Legs
Last Played In: 2003
A weird, distorted mess that’s insanely captivating. That’s the best way to describe this Rid of Me track. There’s a reason it kept popping up in Harvey’s live show for 10 years. The vocal, which has her screaming, crying, yodeling and ripping her voice apart, may be tough for Harvey to pull off nowadays, but in the right spot, it could be a devastating throwback to her early days.

Long Snake Moan
Last Played In: 1995
How has this song been missing from Harvey’s set for so long? To put it simply, it fucking rocks. With an incredibly-fuzzed out groove and a leathery vocal, it’s easily one of the most overlooked pieces in her catalog. Given that Harvey brought the distorted guitars back for her latest album, there’s no reason why this song shouldn’t return with them. Did I mention that it fucking rocks?

Shame
Last Played In: 2010
This Uh Huh Her track is all about Harvey’s delivery, jumping from a deep growl to a high-pitched, panicked yelp. In the meantime, guitar chords form a taut rhythm and a harmonica jitters along. This would be a great, quick pick to slow things down while keeping a crowd’s rapt attention.

Who the Fuck?
Last Played In: 2010
The Hope Six Demolition Project contains some of the heaviest and most aggressive songs she’s written since Uh Huh Her. So what better time to revive the kiss-off of Who the Fuck? With a squawking guitar riff that almost sounds out-of-tune and Harvey’s curse-laden rant, it’s a fan favorite that will get anyone’s blood pressure rising. Her last two albums deal some weighty themes. Give the crowd and band a chance to shake the spectre off.

The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore
Last Played In: 2010
While much of The Hope Six Demolition Project focuses on war-torn locations like Kosovo and Afghanistan, a good portion of the record looks at the social strife found in Washington D.C. Given that most of Harvey’s discography focuses more on the personal and has only recently swung political, let’s split the difference with this abrasive track from Stories From The City, Stories From The City. Among violence, drug abuse and greed, Harvey reaches out for a human connection. The message fits her new album, and would fit a current setlist, perfectly.

The Wind
Last Played In: 1998
This single from Is This Desire? hasn’t appeared since it’s initial run. That’s a shame, as it has a palpable tension, driven by Harvey’s whispering throughout the song. The vocal matches the chapel imagery, as if she’s almost alone in a church and knows anything above a whisper will reveal her confession to strangers. This track would fit right alongside the spiritual hymn of River Anacostia from her last LP.

Working for the Man
Last Played In: 2004
With a slinking, shaking bass line and a creepy guitar melody, this is definitely one of Harvey’s creepiest numbers. Her half-whispered, half-moaned vocals only add to sense of foreboding, like she’s trying to get you to lean in and listen, but you’re scared of what will happen if you do. Maybe such a quiet, offputting piece won’t work for a festival. But for a club? All Harvey needs to do is turn out the lights, play the song and let the crowd’s imagination do the rest.

You Come Through
Last Played In: 2004
With a clattering, naturalistic rhythm and an accordion humming in the background, this is one of Uh Huh Her’s most unexpected treasures. It truly sounds unique in Harvey’s catalog. With so many songs to choose from for a live set, it makes sense to bring back one that truly stands alone in instrumentation and vibe.

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on April 14, 2016.

PJ-Harvey-The-Hope-Six-Demolition-Project

PJ Harvey is a chameleon. Whether it was the raw punk of Rid of Me, the seductive blues of To Bring You My Love, the ecstatic pop-rock of Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea or the tense folk of Let England Shake, each work brought something new. Now, on her ninth studio album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, with its horn-infused, kitchen-sink approach, she’s done it again.

While the music remains as invigorating as ever, the subject matter has the most direct through line of her discography. If Let England Shake looks at conflicts both past and present from an afar, journalistic view, then this album is up-close and personal. The result mostly succeeds, though it’s not without problems.

The record’s biggest stumble can be found in its opener, The Community of Hope. While the background brass boosts up an earworm of a melody, Harvey’s lyrics on the urban decay of Ward 7 in Washington D.C. mistakenly ignores the lives of its residents in favor of comments on the infrastructure and a sarcastic line about building a Walmart. The addition of a local Gospel choir, unaware of the song’s context, just adds to the problem and poisons an otherwise great opener. Not much better is Medicinals, which takes a preachy, judgmental tone on how humanity has ruined nature.

Thankfully, the missteps are mainly limited to those two songs. A stronger effort is Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln, with a folksy guitar, a slow-burning accordion and what sounds like a bagpipe fed through a theremin. Lyrically, Harvey points out the juxtaposition of how D.C.’s greatest monuments, for the U.S. President who abolished slavery and the soldiers lost in one of America’s deadliest wars, have turned into tourist traps with “refreshment stands” and “plastic chairs.”

Some of the most fascinating songs on The Hope Six Demolition Project are those where Harvey goes all-in on a different style of music and finds the mood to match. Chain of Keys, with its military drumbeat, mournful horns and parishioner backing vocals, sounds like a New Orleans dirge, a funeral song for an abandoned neighborhood. River Anacostia is an enraptured spiritual number, asking for relief from the pollution and storm runoff that infects a nearby body of water.

Just as Harvey brought the autoharp to the forefront on Let England Shake and did the same with the piano on White Chalk, it’s the saxophone that gets its chance to shine on this record. On The Ministry ofDefence, the instrument breaks up one of her grungiest guitar tones and leads into lines from dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson. On the bluesy stomp of The Ministry of Social Affairs, the sax bashes its way in with a deranged, thrilling solo.

The strongest songs come at the very end, where Harvey most effectively puts us in the setting she’s describing and has the melodies to keep us there. “Now you see them, now you don’t/Children vanish ‘hind vehicle/Now you see them, now you don’t/Faces, limbs, a bouncing skull,” she sings over a sinister garage riff on The Wheel. Even more effective is the chorus where she pleads “Hey, little children don’t disappear,”attaching their losses to the number 28,000, while never explaining the origin of that statistic.

Harvey closes in devastating fashion with Dollar, Dollar, the only two words a begging child needs to say to passing tourists. “I turn to you to ask/For something we could offer/Three lines of traffic past/We pull away so fast,” she tragically sings, a moment of doubt where she questions whether being a musician and traveling the world does any good. Even if she sheds light on these issues, will that help change anything for the better? Harvey leaves the question hanging, but proves why she needed to write this album. She isn’t sure if a musician can help the world. But it’s better to try than to do nothing.

8/10