Friday, May 7, 2010

PJ Harvey - Dry


My second-favourite rock chick (after Adalita from Magic Dirt), although I will admit Polly Jean is probably far more well known around the world.  She is another musical pixie - the word petite doesn't really cover it - but with a booming voice and the gumption of a fully-formed rock star, her territory is songs that demolish the facade of beauty and uncover the true heart lying beneath.  But don't call her a feminist.

As a debut, Dry ticked all the right boxes when it was released, way back in 1992.  At the time, Grunge was big around the world and PJ's stripped back blues rock and angst-ridden vocals often garnered comparisons to Patti Smith, Godmother of Grunge, although Polly hardly agrees, instead calling it, simply, lazy journalism.

From the opener, Oh, My Lover, with its plea of "don't you know it's alright, you can love her", Polly plays out her passions straight from her heart and guitar.  And her attack is relentless throughout the album, where, black widow-like, she lures the listener into her web with soft-sung vocals and delicate arrangements before pouncing.  The only exceptions to this winning formula are the Breeders-like Plant And Rags and Water.

Yes, the production is rough and the mastering limited, but nonetheless, this is a stunning debut from a talent who has since proven herself to be a major musical force.  Personally, I still think Dress is one of the best songs she's ever written.  For this reason (amongst many), I'm calling this another Forgotten Gem.


Oh, Polly Jean... my favourite rock chick.  Not my favourite album, but the one I bought because Sheela-Na-Gig was such a revelation when it came out.  I remember having an intense conversation in a dance club with a very stoned girl about the song, what it meant, and how PJ's voice just drew something out of us, while her boyfriend watched us and occasionally tried to interject, but eventually gave up in disgust.  Which is kind of appropriate, given it's about carvings some say represent a female fertility goddess.

Listening to Dry now, I can hear faults with its composition and its mix (it's a first album, give her a break!).  And I wonder why I can love Polly's way of not-singing but hate Nick Cave's.  I remember seeing her perform at a Big Day Out, looking dwarfed by her guitar and teetering across the stage in huge red sparkly heels that made her look a little like Minnie Mouse. 

Such a powerful voice from such a small and frail-looking woman, but whose hard-rocking performance puts her up there with any of the other rock chicks I've seen.  She's made better albums than this.  I believe we own them.  But for its faults, there's still that voice, bring that growl, breathy whine and moan that make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.


For more information:

In our collection we also have Stories Of The City, Stories Of The Sea and Uh Huh Her


  1. Oh Polly Jean! I own all her albums...except this one. I have to say that I find listening to an entire album quite a task but in small bursts she is the business. 'Stories..' is still my favourite but 'Is This Desire?' and 'White Chalk' both very different, are close on its heels. What a talent.

  2. MO, unlike you, I could listen to her sing the phone book (with the right musical accompaniment, of course). However, I've not heard the two albums you mention, but take your word for it. We will probably have to add these to that list of wants, I suspect.


  3. I love Polly Jean. From the corrosive beauty of this first disc to the delicate flutterings of White Chalk, she's a wonder. A wonder, I tell ya.

  4. Braeden, 'corrosive beauty' huh? Well said. We both kinda wish we'd written this in the review.