Anna Minard, our city hall reporter, claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we're forcing her to listen to all the records that music nerds consider important.
Rid of Me
The beginning of Rid of Me sounds like a soundtrack to a montage or the beginning of a road trip. There's a certain familiar weight and rhythm to the guitar that says, C'mon, we're about to go somewhere. Halfway through track one, "Rid of Me," it blows up, opens wide, and gets pretty hard. Instead of inviting, it sounds pleading, angry. The end of the song sounds like it required PJ Harvey to get a lifetime supply of cough drops.
Then the second track starts again with a similar, recognizably calm intro, like the beginning of a movie scene where the protagonist walks into a nightclub and looks around. Maybe I've been binge-watching too much Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the weekends, but PJ Harvey sounds perfect for the Bronze, the dark 1990s nightclub where no one in Sunnydale ever gets tired of going, even though vampires and demons go there to snack on humans like it's a goddamn buffet. (Seriously: Who owns that club? What are their insurance costs? That place gets utterly destroyed multiple times per season. Also: That is a cavernous warehouse space for a small-town all-ages club. It just seems prohibitively expensive, y'know?)
Excuse me, moving on! But I'm thinking about vampires and '90s darkness for a reason. There's a lot of licking and burning and blood here in the lyrics, a lot of body parts, a lot of fire. And packed around it is a lot of regular whiny human pain. I think my favorite song might be "Man-Size Sextet," which I can't believe I'm saying because it's just a bunch of crazy unspooling string instruments and repetitive cries of "Man-size/Man-size/Man-size." But there's something weirdly, unnameably great about it.
Overall, this is a little loud for me—or, not loud, but noisy, and not just noisy, but kind of full, chunky, and with that fine mesh screen of electric noise that some rock crackles with. That density of harshness makes this a more selective listen—better at night than in the morning, better in the gray than in the sun. It also means that listening to it on decent speakers makes a huge difference (tinny crunch = no fun).
But for all that hardness, PJ Harvey's voice is elastic and changeable, impressive as a whisper, as a scream, as a falsetto. She often sounds like someone trying to freak you out with her desire. The album feels like a psych out—or a psych up, like she's trying to build her own bravado. Yeah, she sounds righteous, but it's a complicated, unclean righteousness. This is for rainy nights alone drinking red wine, alternating between despair and empowerment—in love, in life.
I give this a "bring a cross and a wooden stake" out of 10.