Song of the day – 290: PJ Harvey (a mini-review)
Sure, I’m as intrigued as anyone.
She polarises. Much of me wants to hate her, for the preciousness that surrounds her, the way she receives accolades usually reserved for male artists – why is it never the other way around? – for her treatment of music as art. Someone is putting her in for the post of war poet, she wants a Turner Prize for her music. Well, why not. One art form is no less an art form than another. And sure, music can be art and social commentary. I just don’t like art galleries or newspapers, usually. I’ve saved some of my worst vitriol for her (the ridiculously over-feted album Stories From The City Stories From The Sea where Polly tried to be Nick Cave and sadly received more acclaim than ever). I’ve also saved some of my highest praise for her (the debut, of course, Dry: that last piano-led album … er, most everything actually). She sometimes comes across as humourless, but clearly isn’t. Po-faced, but SO isn’t. She’s passionate, immerses herself within her work but then will claim otherwise. Part of me has never forgiven her for denying she was a feminist in that Melody Maker interview with me and Sally Margaret Joy at the height of the first wave of Riot Grrrl, 1992 – a conversation that inspired the “She said, ‘I am not a feminist’” line in Hole’s ‘Asking For It’. Part of me totally understands why she did that. I can recall her hiding in corners at Camden loft parties before her fame. She’s an astonishing performer, usually. Except when she isn’t.
My first impressions of Let England Shake – an album even more feted than usual, and that’s saying a lot – is that it’s way more approachable, way friendlier than rote. Ironic, of course – considering the ‘serious’ subject matter (um, you won’t need me to go into that here: it’s been talked about everywhere else). I can’t help noticing that the way the title track (video below) lilts, and its slightly breathless, squeaky vocal, reminds me of Lykke Li. The deftly handed percussion too. Ironic. One is pop flimflam in comparison (except when she isn’t) and the other is Rock Seriousness For The Critics (except when she isn’t). Mind you, almost everything is Pop Flimflam in comparison with Polly – especially Saint Nick – and I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad. Polly, of course, has been known to be fond of her crotch, just like Lykke is: this is a trait I feel should be encouraged in both sexes, but particularly female… however, this really isn’t the time or place to be going on about female crotches. Not when there are wars to be decried. I’m just trying to point out that there’s a lightness behind the seriousness, almost heady in places, fantastically welcome in this age of 4.30 minutes Kings Of Leon songs and boys falling over themselves to explain that Radiohead can still write ‘melodies’, just give us a second, we’ll work out where. Not a note wasted, not a note pointlessly repeated. Not least among its virtues, Let England Shake is a triumph in restraint
Or to put it more concisely: The new Radiohead album is 37 minutes long, but only contains 37 seconds of music. Let England Shake is 39.6 minutes and contains exactly 39.6 minutes of music. I can’t help feeling that sides me with the Jools Holland’s of this world. Fuck it. Another reason to feel conflicted over Polly. Her music is rooted in a certain tradition, even as she messes with that tradition and builds upon that tradition and moves that tradition onwards and upwards. Radiohead do nothing except be Radiohead.
I can see me playing this back to back with Wounded Rhymes, for sure.
More on this later. How amazing is ‘England’?