Album Review: PJ Harvey And John Parish

A Woman A Man Walked By

Facts about this album:

* PJ Harvey first collaborated with John Parish on the album ‘Dance Hall At Louse Point’ in 1996.

* The pair first began collaborating after Parish’s band played at Harvey’s 18th birthday party.

* The album is produced by long-time Harvey producer Flood.

Album review:

A lot has changed since PJ Harvey and John Parish circled each other on 1996’s ‘Dance Hall At Louse Point’. For one, a female solo artist now seems to lack cachet unless she’s strapped coyly in a cute vintage dress, ruffling her sexy bed-hair while strumming on an acoustic guitar and bitching about the last arsehole who let her down (yet always with that she-definitely-still-would wink). Yet for every Duffy, Kate Nash and Florence Welch, there will be one woman who still continues to forge her own path.

Polly Harvey has walked her solitary road for many miles now. As she screams and woofs on ‘Pig Will Not’,

it’s hard not to picture grown men across the land moaning from beneath their Lily Allen records, rocking like disturbed zoo animals and begging for mercy. It makes it the most crucial, yet possibly the most-likely-to-be-skipped track on the album. To all purposes, Polly is that woman that a man walked by – is she still too challenging for some? Undeniably, yet Harvey has also always been necessary. Not since Patti Smith has someone shaken off those labels and immersed us so deeply in her strange hallucinogenic fantasies – warts and all. None as hallucinogenic as her latest ripped scrapbook ‘A Woman A Man Walked By’, which exposes Polly in a hypnotic state of flux, alongside on-again-off-again collaborator and producer John Parish.

Following on from the relative calm of 2007’s solo effort ‘White Chalk’, which took ivory white keys as its main inspiration, Polly’s second joint album with Parish couldn’t be more eclectic in its breadth and scope. Though Polly does curtsey at her last effort’s sparseness on the fragile ‘The Soldier’, the rest of the album darts back and forth across her entire career.

Kicking off with smouldering rock-anthem ‘Black Hearted Love’ she soon stamps her feet to the off-kilter banjo sounds of ‘Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen’ before contorting in the style of her psychedelic icon Captain Beefheart on the album’s title track as she gurns, “stick it up your fucking ass!’.

Just as it seems beauty is lost to subversion, she hits us with ‘Passionless, Pointless’, floating and flickering before ‘Cracks In The Canvas’ fades out mournfully. We’ve reached our journey’s end in Polly’s uniquely oblique way.

Still stuck on that vintage dress? Well, you know exactly where Peej would tell you to stick it.

Kat Lister

More on this artist:
PJ Harvey and John Parish NME Artist Page
PJ Harvey website