PJ Harvey - Uh Huh Her
PJ Harvey’s last album Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea won the Mercury Music prize for Best Album on September 11th 2001, and the fact her prize was overshadowed by other tragic events has acted as a blessing in disguise, in that Polly has prevented herself from slipping into the mainstream. That album was a stunning marriage of punk and adult rock, splicing twenty-first-century feminism with New-Wave adrenaline. It launched PJ Harvey to a completely new audience.
Four years since Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, and Polly releases Uh Huh Her. Her mission seems clear – to alienate any of the fans that she enlisted with her last album. Gone is the polished punk-rock sensibilities and the killer choruses, as instead we are presented with stark, isolated songs that are almost stripped bare of any attractive production. If this album was released on Ryan Adams’ Lost Highway label, they’d insist on Polly going back and recording a Rock N Roll instead. Thankfully, Island are more sympathetic towards Polly’s recording intentions, and have instilled suitable faith in her to let her record, produce and even mix the final album to her own desired results. She even record all of the instruments herself, bar Rob Ellis who played percussion and drums.
Uh Huh Her is nowhere near as accessible or radio-friendly as its predecessor, and yet it’s drenched in a refreshing honesty that renders it more cherished as a result. It’s better than Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea because it’s more personal; this is PJ Harvey as a warts-and-all author, almost unprotected from the glare of the watching world. This angle might leave her criticised in some quarters, but at least it allows Polly to record in a matter that pleases her. Uh Huh Her begins in brilliant, vitriolic fashion, with The Life And Death Of Mr. Badmouth aimed at a former lover complete with wah-wahs, and Shame acting as the nearest equivalent to a female Bends-era Radiohead with its brooding rhythm guitar. The fuzz and directness of Who The Fuck? is Polly at her most primitive, whilst You Come Through is the most heartfelt. It’s as if Uh Huh Her has all of Polly’s emotions contained within its songs; the words only serve to slowly drive the music, and the music only serves to slowly drive the words.
When you hear single The Letter in its bristled-riff glory, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a bootleg pre-release version of the real thing, and yet this is clearly Polly’s intention. Rarely has she sounded so frail, so bitter, and so rough around the edges, to the extent that you actually cannot understand why you like the album so much. Uh Huh Her is far too edgy to ever appeal to a casual rock onlooker, and blissfully removes itself from any commercial considerations to ever find itself lumped in the sell-out basket. Polly Jean Harvey should feel very happy with herself, she’s encountered the Mercury Music curse and lived to tell the tale.