- Artist: PJ Harvey
- Title: To Bring You My Love
- Released: 1995
- Format: CD and Digital Download
- Genre: Post Punk/Alternative Rock
- Beverage of Choice: Renieri Invetro 2015
Polly Jean Harvey has proven to be somewhat of a musical chameleon over the 25+ years of her stellar career. Her first two albums were in the ‘angry girl’ genre with post-punk sensibilities and a low-fi attitude. To Bring You My Love, although not a complete departure from her style and vision, brings more of a blues aesthetic not in a purely traditional sense but in the approach to song structure, lyrical content and delivery.
Recorded with now long-serving collaborators Flood and John Parish to great acclaim, the album established PJ Harvey as a brand name in England and boosted her reputation as a songwriter, musician and vocalist to be reckoned with. I purchased the CD within a few days of release having been impressed by the strength of her debut and sophomore offerings. The joy to discover that Harvey had turned to the blues for inspiration was boundless and this recording has been a constant ‘go-to’ album when I feel the need for a certain sound (clear, detailed and open; the production is simply top-level).
Lyrically, Harvey turned to religious imagery, love-loss and influences from Captain Beefheart and other psychedelic roots. The strength of the songwriting lies in the simplicity of the major elements while layering in complexity through effects (distortion/overdrive, echo) and a variety of instrumentation (organ, vibraphone, acoustic guitar, synth, strings and chimes). The overall result is one of dense yet detailed rock music with a unique and identifiable tone – nobody else really sounds like PJ Harvey.
The title track is the opener and it sets the scene perfectly with driving Hammond organ, over-driven guitar and ragged vocal delivery filled with desire and longing. The deliberate pace builds tension and menace; the rest of the album simply follows suit and the quality, drama and sheer involvement never lags for the next 45 minutes or so.
“Meet Za Monster” is a grinder, a literal example of Gene Simmon’s ‘monster stomp’ vibe and atmosphere. The sound-stage is deliberate and precise with first guitar off to top right , vocals centered and what sounds like a knife being sharpened top center. The second guitar jumps in on left channel with a fat distorted groove while drums and cymbals are mercilessly pounded into submission. Everything gels towards the end of the track and the band fills in every available space to an abrupt end and beginning of the next track “Working for the Man” which proves to be even more menacing with half-spoken vocals, huge rolling bass and sharp clean drum sound, Beck-like guitars and various keyboard elements creating a spooky atmosphere.
To this point on the album Harvey hasn’t yet let loose her incredibly powerful range but she does so on “C’mon Billy” accompanied by lovely acoustic chords and keyboard backing. Short but oh so sweet!
“Teclo” is probably my favorite track as it’s atmospheric, moody and complex with Harvey showing off the amazing strength of her singing in expression and range. This song has one of the most beautiful choruses on the album – ‘let me ride on his grace for a while’ – that gives the song a unique lift from despair to joy.
Every song on this offering is couched in high drama, artistic expression and a focused vision; Harvey is undeniably a force of nature. Listen to “Send His Love to Me” for a masterclass in structure, rhythm, tonality and passion; Polly Jean drives her voice hard in a plea for love at all costs. Similarly on “The Dancer” she explores range and power in her vocals that must actually be painful to produce from a human throat – amazing. So the album ends as it started with intensity, drive and an uncompromising artistic vision.
This is possibly Harvey’s most approachable album but I encourage you to explore the rest of her catalog as she is simply one of the most unique and talented musicians to arrive on the scene in the past couple of decades. Let me know in the comments if you listened to the whole album, preferably on quality headphones!