Friday, 28 May 2010

Countdown: Women Who Rock - #2, PJ Harvey

#2 - PJ Harvey

Narrowly missing out on the (in my mind) highly coveted number one spot on the countdown is Britain's leading lady of rock and or roll, Polly Jean Harvey. I'm not going to lie, it was tough not putting PJ at numero uno. A strong enough case could be made as to why she's the number one woman in rock's storied history and it wouldn't be the first time she would have topped such a list. Fans voted her as the greatest woman in rock in Q magazine in 2001; she's a former (and first female) winner of the prestigious Mercury Music Prize for the amazing album Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea and Kurt Cobain was such a huge fan of her work that he listed her debut, Dry, as one of his top 50 albums of all time. If only he had been around to see just how amazing the rest of her work would be.

Musically, Harvey is practically unbeatable. She can play the guitar, piano, bass, violin, cello, bass, saxophone, drums and harmonica. Polly has written and composed her entire solo catalogue, which is like poetry being added over classical music with heavy rock thrown on top of that. Her work has inspired countless imitatators to pick up a guitar and rock out (but Kate Nash, please don't ever try to be like PJ Harvey again. I mean, I love you, but seriously, don't). Tori Amos and Bjork are her peers, graduating from the same class of interesting and engrossing 90s music, an era that hasn't been beaten with anything that has come from the 2000s.

What of PJ Harvey the performer? Step back in time with me to 2001. It's the Sydney leg of the Big Day Out festival and I'm sitting at home minding my own business watching the TV. I switch over to Channel [V] and there's this kind of hot lady in a low cut top with an orange guitar standing on stage. I have no idea who she is but I decide to watch anyway, it's not like I have anything else to do with my life. The fans are cheering a little bit and I've just noticed she doesn't have a band behind her. Oh, she's just started playing the guitar and now she's singing and she's doing this alone. In front of 50, 000 people. And she ROCKS! Did she just sing, "lick my legs, I'm on fire, lick my legs, I'm desire?" I think I'm in love and so is the crowd, listen to that ovation at the end! For your viewing pleasure, I've posted this video of PJ Harvey performing 'Rid of Me' above. I hope you fall in love too.

Her coolness is driven further into the stratosphere when you look at the amazing collaborations she's done over the years. Polly dueted with Bjork at the 1994 Brit Awards, performing an insanely cool cover of the Rolling Stone's 'Satisfaction;' she's frequently recorded with Nick Cave; she's guested with Queens of the Stone Age and she's released two critically acclaimed albums with British musician and producer John Parish, including 2009s A Woman A Man Walked By. PJ has proven an inspiration for many current rock acts, including The Kills, Placebo, Peaches, Metric, Florence + The Machine, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Melissa Auf Der Maur. For those keeping score at home, four of the other women on this list were just mentioned.

Harvey's own solo work has become increasingly more mellow as she gets a little bit older, with her last release White Chalk (2007) showing a more melodic soft-rock sound. It won't be too long before she's back in the studio and I'm hoping that she makes one last run at the heavy rock sound that defined her throughout the 1990s. At the end of the day though, she could release a massive pop-trash album and I'd still think it was the coolest thing I had ever heard. I can hardly wait.

Key Tracks: 'Sheela-Na-Gig,' 'Water' and 'Hair' (Dry), 'Rid of Me,' 'Man-Size Sextet,' 'Man-Size,' 'Highway '61 Revisited' and 'Dry' (Rid of Me), 'To Bring You My Love,' 'Maniac,' 'Down By the Water,' 'C'mon Billy' and 'The Dancer' (To Bring You My Love), 'Is This Desire,' 'The Wind,' 'A Perfect Day Elise' and 'Angelene' (Is This Desire?), 'Good Fortune,' 'A Place Called Home,' 'The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore,' 'You Said Something' and 'Big Exit' (Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea), 'The Letter,' 'Shame,' 'The End' and 'Who the Fuck?' (Uh Huh Her), 'The Devil,' 'When Under Ether,' 'White Chalk,' 'The Piano' and 'Before Departure' (White Chalk), 'Hardly Wait.'

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