Tony Pierce said he wanted to see more lists, so here this is: a list of the best PJ Harvey albums in ascending order. This excludes her collaborations with John Parrish and compilations.
8. Uh Huh Her (2004).
This was definitely a let down. It was billed as a return to the rawness of Rid of Me and Dry. It was definitely stripped down without the refinements of her previous albums. But it didn’t really strike a particular chord with anything.
7. Let England Shake (2011).
A lot of people liked this album. I thought it was nothing more than Renaissance Faire music. It won oodles of awards. I didn’t get it.
6. White Chalk (2007).
Now on to the albums I liked. This was Polly getting very experimental. Sure there were misses on this album, but what worked worked really well. Take this video of her performance of “The Mountain”, the first thing I heard of this album:
Who doesn’t love the Diamanada Galas-esque shrieking at the end of the song? I think it was the basis of that one song that I love the album so.
5. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000).
This album came at a strange time in this world of ours. The rage from the early 90’s had dissipated, and no one really knew what to do with it. 9/11 hadn’t happened yet, and no one really knew what we were getting into with W.
What scared me a little about this album was how uplifting it sounded. The lead single “Good Fortune” actually sounded happy! I was scurred.
What was also scary was how good the album was despite the general happiness. There’s an excellent duet with Thom Yorke in “The Mess We’re In”.
4. Dry (1992).
This announced the arrival of Polly Jean Harvey unto the music world. It’s fitting it started with a bomb of a d-minor chord in “Oh My Lover” which sees Polly clinging onto her love by any means necessary. There’s desperation and sorrow, but the anger brewing underneath the surface was evident. It’s not the full explosion of what was to come, but there was just enough to intrigue.
3. Is This Desire? (1998).
Holy shit this is a beautiful group of songs. We saw the desperate Polly, the angry Polly, the theatric Polly. She even went a bit experimental with John Parrish in the interim. She did a duet with her then-boyfriend Nick Cave. What next?
It was this collection of subdued songs that tried to tell a story. “Angelene” opens with slight strums of a couple of guitar strings. “Is This Desire?” ends in a whisper. There are loud moments in “Joy” and “No Love So Sweet”, but the full on rage was gone.
A lot of people described this album as “haunting.” It’s just beautiful.
2. To Bring You My Love (1995).
Polly made the big metamorphosis here. She dumped her band and reformed a new group. Instead of being stripped down and raw she decided for big makeup big costumes big theatrics. Big big big.
Everyone knew “Down by the Water.” “Billy” was a great single also. But Polly’s best song was here. “The Dancer”. It was goth. It was female. It was subversive. It was everything that was right about music at that snapshot of time.
1. Rid of Me (1993).
This is among the best album from the 1990’s. Not only is a raw burst of anger from Polly, it is her claiming her place in a man’s world. She’s the king of the world, she’s man sized, she’s blaming the snake, and don’t you wish you never ever met her.
It is rare when a collection of songs immediately knock you on your ass and make you take notice on the first listen.