I approached the new PJ Harvey album with some trepidation after reading a poor reviews of it in USA TODAY and Entertainment Weekly. I love "Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea" and "Uh Huh Her" as well as the best parts of "Is This Desire?" But on "White Chalk," she sings the songs in a child's voice falsetto and most of the songs are just voice + piano. Subjects range from having an abortion to murder-ballad slashery with lyrics such as, "Hit her with a hammer/ teeth smashed in/ red tongue's twitching/ look inside her skeleton." Even Harvey's old paramour, Nick Cave, might blanch at that imagery -- and he writes this stuff as his day job while sitting in his office in customary business-suit attire.
It's certainly not an album to recommend to PJ newbies, then. Or one to play for Dido fans. That said, if initial impressions are anything to go by, then this'll place in my top 10 albums of 2007. I love how she's once again pushed forward as an artist rather than opting to repeat herself.
The album comes with a curfew: Play it after dawn and it loses its power. This is music for the unearthly hours of the morning. This stark, stripped-down album sounds as if it was recorded in an abandoned mental asylum and it is more quietly terrifying than Bass Communion's "Ghosts on Magnetic Tape." It's PJ's sheer emotional intimacy that is so unsettling. And yet distressingly beautiful. Quite a few lovely, if unconventional, melodies on the album, actually, and "Silence" is one of the best songs Polly Jean's ever written. The ending, where she multitracks her voice into a spectral choir, is gorgeous. Looking forward to further midnight visits with this record.