Tuesday, April 1, 2008

No. 435: To Bring You My love

Band: PJ Harvey
Album: To Bring You My Love
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: PJ Harvey's greatest work is dark, wet and awesome. Song topics range from bastard children and sex to work spirituals and infanticide, as Harvey's band dials up the low end and Harvey wails.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Few albums are better. This should be in the top 100.
Best song: "Long Snake Moan" is a great modern blues record. "Meet Ze Monsta" is what the White Stripes wish they could do.
Worst song: I like this whole album.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

Rid of Me is brilliant and the follow up, "To Bring You My Love" is similarly brilliant. While "Rid of Me" has the standard Albini product- er, engineering of a straight live band, "To Bring You My Love" is more produced. That's not to say it isn't raw -- it is. But the sound is more mature and much more misanthropic.

Where "Rid of Me" is punk rock, "To Bring You My Love" is nouveau blues. The title track is slow and building with a lyric that recalls Southern U.S. religion (Harvey sings "I've cursed the devil" in a low burn). "Working for the Man" has similarly religious overtones ("God of piston, god of steel/God is here behind the wheel") over a metronomic 4/4 and a Pixies-on-quaaludes bassline. "C'Mon Billy" stands out as something of a folkier record, while Harvey's voice falls into a more desperate tone as strings frame the song.

On "Rid of Me," her raw sexuality powers the record, but the guided, lush misanthropy of the lyrics are the signature of "To Bring You My Love." Some of that still exists, as "Long Snake Moan" can attest. But, the darker side of humanity is where Harvey truly shines. "C'Mon Billy" is sung from the point of view of a woman who has birthed a child with an absent father (the title's protagonist). The album's sorta hit, "Down by the Water" is a tale of a woman dropping her daughter into the sea to drown. The song's draw, of course, is Harvey's delightfully scary whisper lyric over the last minute of the song ("Little fish, big fish, swimming in the water/Come back here, man, gimme my daughter"). Like a maniac on a killing spree, Harvey's voice is measured and scary.


"To Bring You My Love" is about as universally acclaimed as a non-Beatles album can be. Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, The New York Times, People, USA Today, Hot Press and the Los Angeles Times all named it the no. 1 album of 1995. Spin, New Musical Express, Melody Maker and Mojo all placed the record in their year-end 1op 10 lists. Hell, even "Down By The Water" got decent rotation on MTV. It's understandable, as the album is amazing. It sounds wet, echoing Harvey's image on the cover.

Like Tom Waits, PJ Harvey is great at constructing crazy, catchy, experimental looks at the dark side of human nature. "To Bring You My Love" is her opus.

1 comment:

padraig said...

RJ - Being that you're a big fan of Slint (I'd assume), I'll bet you've read about PJ Harvey allegedly contacting them about an ad they put out for a female vocalist. One of the cooler urban legends of rock & roll, if nothing else.

"To Bring You My Love" reminds me of a Birthday Party/Nick Cave more than anything else, which is probably why I like it so much despite generally detesting indie singer-songwriters. I know it's firmly steeped in the classic Leadbelly/Dylan/Stones etc. lineage but I think the element of harsh post-punk minimalism is what puts it over the top. Others might disagree. Either way, this album is good that it almost makes me want to forgive Flood for U2 & the last few Smashing Pumpkins albums. Almost, but not quite.

Also, this has to be, after Enter The Wu-Tang, the worst placement on the entire list. It's like the, or at least one of the, defining guitar albums of the post-Nirvana 90s.