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Thread: Research for essay on PJ (and Bjork and Tori)

  1. #1

    Research for essay on PJ (and Bjork and Tori)

    Hi!

    I just posted in the Bjork section about this, but I also wanted to stop by and chat with the PJ folks. (I've got the Tori stuff covered.) I'm working on an essay for a website that kind of revisits the Q Magazine cover on Tori,PJ, and Bjork in light of all three of them putting out such landmark albums this year. I have all PJ's albums and a bunch of bootlegs, so I feel pretty comfortable writing about her, but I still wanted to hear what other fans had to say about her.

    How do you feel like she (and/or her music) have changed over the years?

    How would you compare her now to 1994 PJ?

    What are her most essential albums, and why?

  2. #2
    girlfriend, you are so on Octopussy's Avatar
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    essential albums:
    To Bring You My Love - This was the first of several times she would break out of her niche. British lady singing American Gothic blues - it was the only album of hers that was more popular in the states than in the UK. I think it tapped into something about the country's roots that Americans just "got".
    Stories from the City... - The shiny radio pop album. The PJH album for people who don't like PJH. It's the sound of being lost in NYC: Being young, loving life, looking for danger, wanting to be in the center of it all.
    Let England Shake - Not only did she change her lyrical approach, she changed her voice as well. She is unrecognizable as the artist from Dry and Rid of Me. I can't really say much about this album as it is my least favorite, but objectively I think it's one of her most important because it was such a game-changer.

    Why I left out the other albums:
    Is This Desire - It feels like a transitional album for PJ, rather than a fully-realized piece. It's excellent (don't get me wrong), but there are songs where she retreads TBYML, and there are songs that precede SFTC, so it's kind of caught in the middle.
    White Chalk - I don't really know why, but I've just never considered this among her strongest work. I guess it's understandable that she doesn't sound as confident here as LES or TBYML, playing on a new instrument. Although some might argue that the soft, trembling touch was intentional.
    Last edited by Octopussy; 11-20-2011 at 04:25 PM.

  3. #3
    Thank you, Jim! I really like your analysis of her records. I too was initially shocked by her voice on Let England Shake.

    I happen to love White Chalk, but it does feel like an experiment at times.

    I think Uh Huh Her is the one I listen to least, though I'm not sure where to put that in the bigger picture.

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    girlfriend, you are so on Octopussy's Avatar
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    The thing about Uh Huh Her:

    Sometime after Stories came out, PJ said she wanted her next project to be an "ugly, vomit-inducing rock album" -- The era is pretty much divided between that (Who the Fuck, The Letter, Badmouth, Cat on the Wall, Uh Huh Her, Evol) and the soft, wounded songs which must have come later. (Insert Vincent Gallo/relationship speculation here.) It's an anomaly in her catalog because it's so unfocused and concept-free, but in a way that's part of its charm. There's no mask, no persona, it's just PJ being herself.

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    Lyrical acuity and mum-smarts menju56's Avatar
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    UHH definitely has that kind of rough scrapbook/pasted-together kind of feel about it and I agree, that's part of the charm. I also like how she extended it to the artwork with all the masking tape and the self-portrait photos. Whereas Tori, for instance, would have tried to pretend it was cohesive by putting some concept over it. I do think UHH, while not her most essential work, was essential to her as an artist in allowing her to move forward. And since then we've had White Chalk and Let England Shake which are pretty bold steps forward. I think UHH was the turning point album of her career in that sense.

    Can I ask what website you're doing the piece for, whatlanguagenodutch?

  6. #6
    girlfriend, you are so on Octopussy's Avatar
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    ^ I think the transition from songs like Shame, Darker Days, The Slow Drug and You Come Through to the White Chalk album is pretty seamless.

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    condemned to wires and hammers ebby's Avatar
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    I love UHH so much. I think the last half of the record is perfection (from "You Come Through" to the end). There is that divide there, and in a way it's kinda like a vinyl album: Side A has all the rock stuff, up to "Cat On A Wall" and Side B would be the mellow ending.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim View Post
    The thing about Uh Huh Her:

    Sometime after Stories came out, PJ said she wanted her next project to be an "ugly, vomit-inducing rock album" -- The era is pretty much divided between that (Who the Fuck, The Letter, Badmouth, Cat on the Wall, Uh Huh Her, Evol) and the soft, wounded songs which must have come later. (Insert Vincent Gallo/relationship speculation here.) It's an anomaly in her catalog because it's so unfocused and concept-free, but in a way that's part of its charm. There's no mask, no persona, it's just PJ being herself.
    Yeah, she mentioned in the post-Stories interviews that she was working on something really dirty/bluesy/dark/ugly, but the final result is actually quite beautiful. I don't know what part her relationship with Vincent Gallo played here, but I remember her saying that many of the more delicate songs ("You Come Through", "The Desperate Kingdom of Love") were inspired by the death of her grandmother - the Mary Jane Harvey to whom the record is dedicated. PJ took care of her grandma in her final months and witnessed her death, and have said that it made a huge impact on the music - bringing more tenderness to the whole project.

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    Thank you all for your feedback. Oh, and menju, this is for PopMatters.com, like an end-of-year piece.

    Has PJ ever had any big label battles like Tori has? I was rereading the Q article and that occurred to me to ask since I don't know that about her.

  10. #10
    girlfriend, you are so on Octopussy's Avatar
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    Don't quote me on this but from what I've heard about PJ's label -- she is given 100% free artistic reign to do whatever she wants (which is freaking amazing), but the label chooses the singles.

  11. #11
    condemned to wires and hammers ebby's Avatar
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    ^ Yep. That's what I gather too. Same with her management. I vaguely remember reading something along those lines in an article. But also something about every label/management can afford to have one PJ Harvey - big on creativity and not necessarily a big seller, but well respected. Something along those lines.

  12. #12
    Wow. That's pretty cool. Too bad Tori hasn't had more of that. I'll look into that and see if I can find more information. Thank you!

  13. #13
    Alt Universe CliqueMember Spikey's Avatar
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    On Uh huh her;

    I think that what she said about Uh huh her is actually that she wanted to get "back" to the more uglier side of things, not make anything ugly per sé.
    What I think she meant by getting back to it was getting back to themes that come naturally to her, instead of selecting everything beautiful in particular, like she did with Stories.

    The way in which she approached the writing, producing and playing was intimately different. I think mainly producing it entirely herself led to this highly intimate and introspective feeling, a feeling which set up the atmosphere for her next album White Chalk, which was even more so.

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