"Uh Huh Her"
Polly Jean Harvey doesn't trust love, and it's no coincidence that she doesn't trust melody or the beauty of her own voice either. Even when she fell in love during the writing and recording of her previous album, 2000's "Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea," she only relaxed her skepticism a bit. But that was enough to yield her most melodic, most accessible, most rewarding disc, one that won England's prestigious Mercury Prize. In the years since, however, her trust in love and melody has withered, and she is back to her strangled punk-blues vocals and low-fi guitars on the new PJ Harvey album, "Uh Huh Her."
The sound may be harsher and less accessible, but Harvey's soprano is still enticing, her guitar riffs still catchy and her lyrics more incisive than ever. When she describes, on "Shame," how her head is trying to end a relationship that her heart won't abandon, she mutters, "Such a shame." As the song continues, that sense of shame deepens, and the tension between the desire for confession and the humiliation of weakness twists not just her words but also her voice, guitar and keyboards into knots.
Harvey wrote and produced everything and played all the instruments except for the percussion, handled by her longtime collaborator, Rob Ellis. Sometimes she's noisy, as on the blistering kiss-off of "The Life and Death of Mr. Badmouth"; sometimes she's subdued, as on the melancholy regrets of "Pocket Knife"; sometimes she's even optimistic, as on the tentative love song "The Letter." But always the music sounds like a wrestling match between her emotions, which long to gush forth in pop songs, and her skepticism, which subverts gushing at every turn.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Wednesday at the 9:30 club. * To hear a free Sound Bite from PJ Harvey, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8127. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)