Beauty Most Morose
After a break from the limelight, PJ Harvey has renounced her decision not to perform live again and with such a beautiful new body of material it would almost be a crime for the storyteller not to enchant the masses again.
Where her latest albums had been gutsy with an almost punk voraciousness, 'White Chalk' is a delicate return to a primal female delicacy. The drama is not gone, but from lashing guitars PJ has moved to discordant pianos and strings threading their way through her vocals with a dark folk underbody.
PJ's harrowing vocals are haunting as they flutter between the sparkling piano glissando and restless chords of 'Grow, Grow, Grow', this unsettling atmosphere is one that frequently seizes the listener.
Single, 'When Under Ether' is the first real glimpse of the PJ we've come to know and love, with a soft percussive beat giving some rhythm to the singer's breathy vocal melody. It's a brief and fleeting 2 minute tune, a quick insight into the lady's mindset but certainly no radio player. One of the most arresting tunes is, 'The Mountain' which uses PJ's lofty vocals to best effect, soaring over rippling keys; the vocal highs are similar to the seismic calls of Kate Bush more than to any of Polly Jean's previous work.
'White Chalk', a reflection on PJ's birth place of Dorset has a primal beauty, a wistful melancholy number sighing, "White chalk hills are all I've known, white chalk hills will rot my bones". 'To Talk To You's shrill vocals of, "Oh grandmother" sound like more reminiscing, until the twist, "Under the earth, wish I was with you", kicks in and you realise that this isn't family friendly number at all, infact it's full of the kind of creepy sensations that horror films strive to create, it's a deeply unnerving number that relies on a mournful piano pattern.
This acoustic and organic sound is one which won't disappoint fans, whereas PJ's feisty female side has recently been at the fore of her work, 'White Chalk' offers a tender interpretation of her gentler, more reflective side. Happy listening this is not, but it shows off PJ Harvey's formidable talent.