If there’s one thing that PJ Harvey can be relied on for it’s her contrary nature. As soon as the wonderful Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea became a Mercury Music Prize winner it was pretty obvious that the follow up would be dark and impenetrable.
Although Uh Huh Her isn’t as bleak or awkward as Rid Of Me or Is This Desire, those expecting Polly Jean to make some kind of commercial breakthrough won’t find it here.
Indeed, if Stories From The City… was the sound of a confident woman in love and lust, then Uh Huh Her is confirmation that her happiness didn’t last. Gone is the glossy production, duets with Thom Yorke and songs about watching her lover undress. In its place are dirty, grinding guitars, raw blues and lyrics covering such topics as shame, guilt and hopelessness. Of course, it’s all quite, quite brilliant.
Opening track The Life And Death Of Mr Badmouth sets the tone nicely – some abrasive guitar work giving way to Harvey’s quiet vocals. “Baby you got a bad bad mouth…someone wash it out with soap” she commands before stepping the song up a notch with the bellowing chorus of “wash it out!”. The following track Shame is more downbeat and is one of the best tracks of the album. A gliding mediation on the obsessive nature of love, Harvey’s voice is at its very best here.
As with most of Harvey’s material, the lyrics are intriguing. Pocket Knife is a disturbing lament about a child bride (“Mummy put your needle down…I’m not trying to cause a fuss, I just want to make my own f**k ups”) while The Letter appears to explore the erotic qualities of writing a letter – “can’t you see in my handwriting, the curve of the g, the longing” she sings over a storming bluesy arrangement.
Who The F**k is probably Harvey’s most aggressive song yet, but it’s not all primal rage and heartbreak. There are some truly tender moments here which make this album a truly fascinating listen. No Child Of Mine is an almost too short acoustic lament while the minimalist backing of The Slow Drug makes a nice contrast to the raw power of some of the other tracks here.
The Darker Days Of Me And Him, meanwhile, provides an uncharacteristically dreamy end to the album, suggesting that sometimes all the pain of a bad relationship can be worth something (“you taught me a lesson I didn’t want to learn”).
No PJ Harvey record is ever an easy listen and Uh Huh Her is no exception. This is a challenging album and one which provides many rewards for those who take the time to listen to it. She’s been away for far too long – it’s good to have her back.