Wednesday, March 12, 2008

No. 405: Rid of Me

Band: PJ Harvey
Album: Rid of Me
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: British singer Polly Jean Harvey's second album didn't fit the grunge/riot grrl scene nor did it fit into Britpop of the era. Produced by Steve Albini, "Rid of Me" has the sound of the tightest band playing a show for only a few people, featuring Harvey's desperate vocals and piercing guitar.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This is a record that could really stand to be higher just on quality.
Best song: It's probably cliche, but "50 Ft. Queenie" is a force of nature. "Yuri G" is great, and the title track is a classic.
Worst song: The Dylan cover is terrible. I mean, just awful.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

When signed to a major label, how would an artist send a message to said label that s/he isn't the label's puppet? Call Steve Albini.

Rid of Me was when I'd first signed to a major label and I felt that I wanted to—more than ever—demonstrate that I was not going to be the kind of usually expected major artist material [laughs]. So, I chose to work with Steve Albini, who is definitely not a particularly commercial engineer and I made a very difficult record. And I'm glad I did because I think it really did set the tone

Polly Jean Harvey's 2004 quote to Filter magazine mostly sums up the album. It's controlled fury, guided by the masterful hand of Albini's "band playing live" sound. Hired on the basis of his work with the Pixies, Albini's signatures (vocals low in the mix, deep distorted guitars, well-mic-ed rhytymn cymbals, etc.) are all over this record and it remains his best product-, er, engineering work.


It's probably sexist for me to sound as though I am putting this record's greatness on Albini. Albini's engineering fits the album well, but the greatness remains in Harvey's songwriting and powerful voice.

"Rid of Me" shares the aggressive third-wave feminism with much of the riot grrl music of the similar time, though the album's confident pomposity separates it from the amelodic punk rock of the Pacific Northwest.

The wave of guitar, for example, of "50 Ft. Queenie" almost overtakes a listener like few other hard rock songs. As Harvey counts up the inch count ("I'm 20 inches long" to "50 inches long" eventually), the song ramps up into a full-forced tsunami.

The album's lyrics, of course, are nearly the picture of third wave aggressive feminism. Like Liz Phair, Harvey's lyrics suggest a woman about to tear you apart. Between the lyrics of "Dry" and the explosive nature (and title) of "Rub 'Til It Bleeds," Harvey's sexual prowess and demand isn't questioned.

The title track, of course, is both timeless and a product of the musical landscape from which it came. The Pixies-esque dynamics and production certainly date it from a time, as does the forwardness of the lyrics. Still, Harvey's screaming inquisitions of "don't you wish you had never met her?" are catchy and interesting, while the snare drum snaps of the quiet segments fill the space between Harvey's perfect lyrics regarding her being on fire and her command to lick her legs.

It's a rollick and a near-perfect song. Like the whole record, it's aggressive, full of feeling and powerful.

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