PJ Harvey lights a fire

In Hear ThisA.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.

I contend that the shuffle feature in MP3 libraries is the greatest invention since portable music itself. (I remember the luxury of having 90-minute Maxell tapes, with a whole album on each side!) I have an iPod Mini with a semi-random assortment of personal classics on it, and the other day it found a couple of PJ Harvey, which I hadn’t listened to in forever. I’ve always been a bigger fan of her raw early records, especially her 1992 debut Dry; from that album I was offered the masterful single “Sheela-Na-Gig,” a bristling burst of tuneful anger that roars against the idea of slut-shaming well before that term existed, as far as I know. The narrator offers her charms to a man—her “ruby red ruby lips” and “child-bearing hips”—only to be rejected by a chorus of “Sheela-na-gig / You exhibitionist!” (A sheela-na-gig, as those with more than a passing interest in the song learned, is “a medieval stone figure of a naked female with the legs wide apart and the hands emphasizing the genitals, found in Britain and Ireland.”) But Harvey, in one of her most powerful, leanest songs, takes control of the sound and the situation, exposing an inner anguished monologue before finally breaking free with help from a snarling, simple guitar.


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