Monday, 21 December 2015

PJ Harvey Albums Rated - part 4

With all the 'proper' albums covered, here's a bonus post which looks at Polly Jean's most significant other releases.

4-Track Demos (1993)

That rarest of things: an album of early demo versions that could arguably be better than the finished product. The 'Rid Of Me' demos, recorded solo by Harvey in 1991 and 1992, were lauded by Steve Albini, the final album's producer. He encouraged their release and, following the band's split in 1993, they saw the light of day.

The songs that made the album certainly have a different feel to them in demo form, though they aren't that far removed from the definitive versions. The real delights here though are those songs that were never recorded by the band. Reeling really might have been one of 'Rid Of Me''s best songs if they'd chosen to do it, but for me it's M-Bike that is the undoubted highlight. It needs no further embellishment, it is an angry blues song that gets its message through as it is. One of my fave PJ Harvey tracks.

Overall, '4-Track Demos' is a worthy accompaniment to 'Rid Of Me' and betters it in places.

(7 / 10)


The Peel Sessions 1991-2004 (2006)
Like so many before her, Polly acknowledged the part in her success played by John Peel. She recorded eight sessions for Peel between 1991 and 2004 and no fewer than 19 of her tracks featured in his Festive 50 countdowns over the years. This compilation goes some way to collecting the unique versions Harvey recorded for the great man, but there is rather sadly, and a tad irritatingly, a number of stark omissions.

The debut session from October 1991 is included in full. Consisting of four tracks from 'Dry', it shows how raw that first album was. These live versions sound very close to the those originally released, although Sheela-Na-Gig is even more visceral - a ripper of a version. From then on, only part sessions appear, and some not at all. The second session from 1992 is entirely missing, but the two tracks from 1993's session are simply essential. I always loved Naked Cousin and still think it's wasted as a soundtrack-only track, while her version of Willie Dixon's Wang Dang Doodle is a joy and shows how Polly's heart is truly in the blues - with a touch of the odd thrown in.

Elsewhere, a wild version of Snake with John Parish, a ghostly take on Beautiful Feeling without Thom Yorke and an arresting acoustic version of You Come Through[1] all delight. But while you can't really fault any of what is here, ultimately marks have to be deducted for what's missing. Hopefully one day, we'll get the complete collection.

(7.5 / 10)


Dance Hall At Louse Point (1996)
An odd one this. Polly teamed up with her old pal and collaborator John Parish for an album of experimental songs in which he contributed the music and she the lyrics and vocals. It divided critics at the time of its release, and if I'm being honest I'm still not all that keen now. I suppose it shouldn't be considered a 'proper' PJ Harvey release - it was credited to John Parish & Polly Jean Harvey - and her record company thought it was commercial suicide.

Yet even this record has some intriguing moments that merit a revisit. My particular faves have always been Heela and the single That Was My Veil, both of which sound like more conventional PJ Harvey songs (the former wouldn't be that out of place on 'To Bring You My Love'). Otherwise, Civil War Correspondent and Rope Bridge Crossing are also worth hearing, but the rest of it is not really my bag.

(5.5 / 10)


A Woman A Man Walked By (2009)
Nearly 13 years after their last work together, Polly and John got back together for a follow-up. This one was more song-based and less experimental, though it is in no way what you might call straightforward. Opener Black Hearted Love is a guitar driven highlight, something that could have popped up on previous PJH records. The skewed banjo tones in Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen take us off the safe path and into a more frightening, darker world where Polly sounds breathless and desperate. Pig Will Not is not just totally bizarre, but disturbing. Harvey wails: "Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh! I will not!" before launching into a tale of a violent angel while barking like a dog. Seriously.

So OK, it's not in the slightest bit straightforward and quite experimental, yet for some reason it feels like an easier listen than 'Dance Hall At Louse Point'. Just.

(6 / 10)


[1]Not actually taken from a Peel Session, but from a BBC tribute concert to Peel just weeks after his death. Polly dedicated this track to him.


  1. I don't think I've mentioned how much I love PJ Harvey. I love Polly Jean Harvey. Love.

  2. Good stuff Robster
    I have Bizarre Nightmares (tracks from The Bizarre Festival, Cologne 98 and some B sides) which you are welcome to if you wish it. Just forward me your contact details

  3. One of the best females of our generation!!

  4. I love the Peel version of 'Water' which I first heard on a cassette given away with Select magazine years ago. Was delighted when the CD was issued but like you would love it to have been complete.