Polly Jean Harvey

Polly Jean Harvey  (born 9 October 1969), known as PJ Harvey, is an English musician, singer-songwriter, writer, poet, and composer.  In 1991, she formed an eponymous trio and subsequently began her professional career.  The trio released two studio albums, Dry (1992) and Rid of Me (1993) before disbanding, after which Harvey continued as a solo artist.  Since 1995, she has released a further nine studio albums.  Among the accolades she has received are the 2001 and 2011 Mercury Prize for Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000) and Let England Shake (2011), respectively — the only artist to have been awarded the prize twice — eight Brit Award nominations, six Grammy Award nominations, and two further Mercury Prize nominations.  Rolling Stone listed Rid of Me, To Bring You My Love, and Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.  (More from Wikipedia)



If I had to guess, I would imagine that Boyskout heard “Is That All There Is?” as performed by PJ Harvey for the soundtrack of the film, Basquiat (1996) rather than the Peggy Lee hit version of Is That All There Is?.  Past UARB Thomas Anderson once perversely said that his favorite singer-songwriter is Iggy Popand there seems to be no other category in which to place Polly Jean Harvey either.  Harvey grew up on a sheep farm in Yeovil, England; her father worked in a quarry, and her mother was an artist.  She learned to play the guitar and saxophone at an early age and was a backing musician in her teens. 


Polly Jean Harvey formed a trio in 1991 called PJ Harvey with Steve Vaughan (bass guitar) and Robert Ellis (drums).  They became a sensation on the indie-rock circuit, with their debut album Dry (1992) and particularly Rid of Me (1993) being released to wide acclaim.  I don’t have Harvey’s early albums yet, though I do have 4 Track Demos that show the material on Rid of Me in a different format.  While the intention was to present the PJ Harvey songs in a less abrasive form than the original CD, it is hard to conceive of demos being noisier and at the same time more complete than on 4 Track Demos; normally, a demo is laid down in an unadorned, often acoustic manner in order to establish the copyright and to provide a backbone for the finished track. 


By this time, the original trio had broken up, and Harvey was now on her own; but she continued to release her albums under the name PJ Harvey with her full name Polly Jean Harvey given in the credits. 


My favorite PJ Harvey album thus far (and also the first one that I purchased, though I had heard about her for years), Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (2000) is drawn from a six-month sojourn in New York City in 1999.  I had been thinking that the album was her response to 9/11; it was actually released before that horrific date, but there is a sense of impending doom on many of these songs, particularly on “One Line” and her duet with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, “This Mess We’re In”.  PJ Harvey’s thrilling video for “This Is Love” is what originally grabbed me; the song has the memorable lyric:  “I can’t believe life is so complex / When I just want to sit here and watch you undress.”  


For years, I couldn’t play Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea often enough or loud enough.  The opening track, “Big Exit” became the song that I lived by for a long time:  “I met a man /  He told me straight /  ‘You gotta leave /  It’s getting late’ /  Too many cops /  Too many guns /  All trying to do something /  No-one else has done” (though I heard the last line as “I’m trying to do something no one else has done”). 


(January 2014)
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Items:    PJ Harvey 
Last edited: March 22, 2021