PJ Harvey

Uh Huh Her

(Island; 2004)

By Garin Pirnia | 20 November 2007

British singer/songwriter P.J Harvey has never been considered a pop princess, which is probably a good thing. She has the edginess of the once groundbreaking Liz Phair and exudes the sexual aggression of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs Karen O. Her mid-90’s release, To Bring You My Love, catapulted Harvey into the rock stratosphere during the period when standard female artists like Sheryl Crow and Sarah McLachlan reaped all the benefits from the prolific women in rock movement. But Polly Jean has held her own since her 1992 debut Dry and continues to reinvent herself through remarkable songwriting and sonic explorations. Uh Huh Her is her first album in four years since the boisterous, polished and compelling Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, and akin to P.J herself, her new album is diverse and unpredictable.

The album begins with hard blues inspired guitar riffs from “The Life and Death of Mr. Badmouth” where P.J sings: “Baby, you got a bad, bad mouth/ Everything is poison that’s coming out,” setting the precedent that this album has lost some of the romanticism of her former one. The second track,
"Shame", is one of the record’s strongest. Harvey’s angst ridden voice highlights the earnest and intense tune as she laments with masochism: “I’d jump for you into the fire/ I’d jump for you into the flame/Tried to go forward with my life/ I just feel shame, shame, shame.” The irate “Who the Fuck” follows with Harvey distorting her voice as she chides to a lover: “Who the fuck do you think you are/ I’m not like the other girls/ You can’t straighten my curls.”

On several of the tracks, Harvey’s voice fluctuates between abrasive and velvety, but other tracks showcase her lilt and vocal range, such as on “The Pocket Knife," an auspicious song about how she doesn’t want to be tied down with marriage. A tambourine and guitar create a fluid melody to accompany P.J’s timid sounding voice.

A weak moment is “Cat on the Wall,” an unbalanced song with electric guitars jamming in the background and where her voice is so stripped down so raw it almost sounds flat. For a brief moment, P.J puts all the disappointments and torture behind her with the uplifting and mellow “You Come Through.” She sings: “Come on my friend/ Drink to good times, golden wishes/ To your health and mine” against a haunting yet lovely xylophone sound that may inspire hope to the despaired; the same with the terse and acoustic “No Child of Mine.” The last track is the precise and minimalist track, “The Darker Days of Me and Him.” With just a couple of slow guitar chords and percussion beats, Harvey capitalizes on her strong songwriting skills with her resolution: “With no neurosis, No psychosis, No psychoanalysis, And no sadness/ I’ll pick up the pieces/ I’ll carry on somehow/ Tape the broken parts together and limp this love around.”

Uh Huh Her is a slight return to P.J’s previous darker musical explorations filled with songs about her own psychological insecurities. Most of the album is interesting and effective, especially the instrumental arrangements as all of it evokes an powerful emotional response, but at times the songs can be inconsistent and difficult to absorb due to the (as per usual for Harvey though, I suppose) gritty subject matter. The great thing about Polly Jean Harvey, though, is that she’s one of the most diverse and original musicians creating music today because she continues to be uncompromising, unabashed and passionate with her music by staying true to herself and keeping her fans anticipating what she will do next.