P.J. Harvey has become a master of crafting albums that find a single mood and dig deep inside it for 45 minutes. Her last, 2007’s White Chalk, was one of her best, filled with doomy folk laments and spectral textures. The second album-length partnership with frequent collaborator John Parish—he provided the music, Harvey the lyrics—A Woman A Man Walked By, heads in a direction opposite the cohesiveness of Harvey’s past albums. To put it better, it heads in several directions at once, all of them intriguing, few of them fully satisfying.
On the other hand, there’s something here for fans of almost every one of Harvey’s past styles. “Pig Will Not” finds her yowling and barking like she’s rarely yowled since the early days, repeating a message of refusal to some unknown persecutor, or maybe some unseemly compulsion. “Black Hearted Love” revives some of the vulnerable rock of To Bring You My Love, and “Leaving California” returns to White Chalk’s spare sound for a kiss-off to the Golden State. While the individual parts don’t add up to Harvey’s finest effort, A Woman A Man Walked By’s 10 songs add up to an intriguing sketchbook of an album, notions that future albums will hopefully fill in a little more thoroughly.