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PJ Harvey | Uh Huh Her (Island)
In the ten plus years since Polly Harvey sprung into sight with her still compelling debut 'Dry', we've seen her change her style and image with almost schizophrenic frequency.  Looking through many of the grainy biographical 'through-the-ages' photographic self-portraits that are splattered across the sleeve booklet of her latest album, it's almost impossible to uncover the real Polly Jean Harvey underneath the countless aesthetic shrouds.  We've had Polly the glam riot girl, Polly the vampish feminine reflection of Nick Cave, Polly the sad-eyed loner and Polly the sexualised rock goddess - but have we ever had the true Polly behind it all?  Probably not, and we probably never will.  But perhaps sensing these feelings of distance from her muse and from her audience, Harvey has seemingly gone to great lengths to make 'Uh Huh Her' reverberate with her rawest and truest impulses, as opposed to adding on layers of players and production.  
Opting to self-record and self-play the album with only some drumming and engineering duties handled by long-time collaborators Rob Ellis and Head respectively, 'Uh Huh Her' does, from the first few spins, sound like a bunch of home-cut demos - especially after 2000's polished 'Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea'.  But then that's not necessarily a bad thing, given that many people preferred her '4-Track Demos' collection to its close sibling 'Rid of Me' in 1993.  Furthermore, it's not exactly PJ unplugged, with her foot tapping on an American backporch (though the frustratingly short folk nugget No Child of Mine, suggests it wouldn't be such an unappealing prospect).  No, this is essentially about sticking to the Harvey home ground of belligerent blues-guitar grind, weird gothic (with a small 'g') voodoo and atmospheric confessionals - albeit untreated by technology or stylised technique this time around.
There's plenty of great scorned-loved stompers, like Shame and The Letter, that force themselves into the same lineage as Dress (from 'Dry') and Meet Ze Monsta (from 1995's terrific 'To Bring You My Love'), which should keep long-serving fans fixated.  Though two clumsy one-chord/one-idea dirges, Who The Fuck? and Cat On The Wall, suggest that recent flirtations with Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme haven't been such a good idea for her quality control mechanisms.  The parched acoustic blues of Pocket Knife recalls C'Mon Billy ('To Bring You My Love'), though with a somewhat deliberate lack of finesse.  The spooky keyboard-led strains of The Slow Drug and the tropical percussion beds of You Came Through hint at newer musical possibilities but still remain stoically PJ Harvey slow-core ballads at heart.  More satisfying things, however come to bear on the fragile It's You and The End, wherein Harvey finally manages to nail the claustrophobic electro-acoustic sound, she sought but failed to find on her disastrous 'Is This Desire?' long-player from 1998.
Whilst, 'Uh Huh Her' isn't the best kind of PJ Harvey ('Dry' or 'To Bring You My Love' share that accolade still) it certainly isn't the worst ('Is This Desire?') or the most impenetrable ('Rid of Me') but then Harvey has never been one for pushing herself back into ill-fitting precedents.  Crucially, for an artist of such commercial calibre to wipe off the gloss and play straight from the gut is an achievement in itself.  The fact that it contains some gloriously gripping moments is more or less a bonus.  And if you listen hard enough beneath the latest Harvey hairdo (Karen O-meets-Chrissie Hynde, go figure) this durable and heavily detailed record might just lead you to the actual artisan behind the artistry.

Adrian Pannett
July 2004

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