Review: PJ Harvey & John Parish — A Woman A Man Walked By
I know this review is coming two weeks after the album’s release, but gosh durn it, I got an opinion and it needs to be expressed!
On their first collaboration since 1996’s Dance Hall at Louse Point, Harvey and Parish play their hand a little too early; the first track, the sleek rocker “Black Hearted Love,” is easily the strongest cut on the album, but one that would have sounded more at home on Harvey’s Stories from the City — Stories from the Sea. Maybe I just have a short attention span these days, but the entire album seems to crumble after the first three songs and wander off into a dark, murky territory. Keith Phipps of the AV Club was dead-on in his assertion that the album “heads in several directions at once, all of them intriguing, few of them fully satisfying.” All of these directions are fairly represented in the first three tracks: the glossy and heartfelt “Black Hearted Love,” the hillbilly freakout of “Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen,” and “Leaving California,” a song that revolves slowly like the creepiest carousel in the world. This last song finds Harvey singing well beyond her range, her soprano reduced to a quivery wisp reminiscent of Beth Gibbons’.
It’s a strength of the album that, after only a few spins, I can remember each song as a distinct entity (which is more than I can say for Harvey’s last solo album, the solid but underwhelming White Chalk). Each track creates its own atmosphere, but individually they never congeal into much melody or structure. “Pig Will Not” and the previously-mentioned “Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen,” show Harvey pulling out the dirty growl and yowl she hasn’t used much since Dance Hall and To Bring You My Love, which might come as a pleasant surprise to those who miss her rawer work from the Rid of Me days. The title track is her most disturbing performance since Dance Hall’s “Taut;” Harvey chants repeatedly in a masculine groan, “I want your fucking ass!” before reeling into hysterical shrieks. Her creaky vocals on “April” are an interesting experiment, but a reminder why many people have found her to be off-putting over the years.
The strangest juxtaposition on the album occurs between the barking and pounding tantrum of “Pig Will Not,” and the next song, “Passionless, Pointless,” which reveals Harvey at her most toothless. On its own, it might be a beautiful and aching love song, but after the storm, it simply sounds deflated, weak. The first few tracks and the last few bookend the record relatively well, but everything in the middle gets a little gooey. Harvey and Parish’s collaborations are always promising (he writes the music, she provides lyrics) but they never seem to try for consistency, a fact that usually leads to their ultimate downfall.
Purchase at Insound