PJ Harvey: Uh Huh Her

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PJ Harvey

Album: Uh Huh Her
Label: Island

While there's no mistaking PJ Harvey for anyone else, it's also never clear which PJ Harvey will show up on any given album. Not that Harvey has a David Bowie-like tendency to traffic in personas, but there's a world of distance separating the raging youth of her first two albums, the theatrical songstress of To Bring You My Love, the frustrated lover of Is This Desire?, and the starry-eyed itinerant urbanite of Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea. So maybe it was inevitable that for one album, at least, each would come out to play in turn, as they do on Uh Huh Her.

Using little more than an accordion, a bass, and two quiet minutes, Harvey chronicles a disappointed love with "Shame" before exploding into anger with the raw "Who The Fuck?" Containing the most strained vocals this side of Courtney Love's last album, "Pocket Knife" and "The Letter" spill into "The Slow Drug," a song built around strings, an understated loop, tape hiss, and a whisper. If the name weren't already taken, Harvey might easily have called this The Bends.

There's a unifying principle to it all, however. Harvey produced Uh Huh Her herself, and she plays every instrument but the percussion. Maybe that's why it sounds, to borrow a phrase from Jarvis Cocker, like loneliness turned up to 10. Whether she's hushed or screaming, Harvey creates the sound of someone who's been through the wringer and knows she might have to go back. "When I'm not with you, my dreams are so very dark," she sings on "It's You," raising the question of whether the album could even have been made with someone else in the room.

While all of this helps make Uh Huh Her one of Harvey's least predictable albums, it doesn't always make it one of her best. Her varied approach yields varied results: Sometimes the disc sounds like a mature summing up of previous work; at other times, it sounds like a closet-cleaning. The loud, fast, angry tracks quickly grab attention, but they sound forced on subsequent listens. Still, the quieter, moodier stuff only sounds better each time, and when the album fades out with the sound of seagulls, an autoharp, and the humbled wisdom of "The Darker Days Of Me & Him," Harvey sounds ready to leave the past behind and move on to her next identity.

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