Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Woman A Man Walk By Is Haunting

Many of my favorite albums encompass a sense of atmosphere – a unique presence of place that can remove you from wherever you are and quite literally take you somewhere else. At their best, PJ Harvey owns a strange darkness on her albums, a darkness that is palpable in her live performances. Live she becomes a dominant, unnerving, and terrible force, one that is both intimidating and surreal. In short, Ms. Harvey is a force of nature, and a force to be reckoned with.

Longtime producer John Parish, who previously collaborated with Harvey on 1996's Dance Hall at Louse Point and produced 1995’s To Bring You My Love through 2007’s White Chalk works with Harvey here as a full partnership. The new album A Man A Woman Walked By is a full collaboration between Parish and Harvey, with Parish providing the music and Harvey the lyrics and vocals.

The results of this collaboration are a bit uneven, yet often produce stunning results. Opener (and best song on the album) “Black Hearted Love” rips open big, sickly, quivering distorted guitars, and sounds very much like “Woke Up In A Strange Place” by Jeff Buckley (when I say it sounds very much like, I mean almost identically - at least the riff anyway). This is the high point of the album, a spectral beauty that sweeps through with all the mystery, clout, and just plain darkness as other Harvey classics like “Angelene”, “Horses In My Dreams” or “I Can Hardly Wait”. This is the “worth the price of admission” track that makes the album worth purchasing. I include the lyrics here because I think they can say it better than I can:

I think I saw you in the shadows

I move in closer beneath your windows

Who would suspect me of this rapture?

And who but my black hearted love

And who but my black hearted love

When you call out my name in rapture

I volunteer my soul for murder
I wish this moment here forever

And you are my black hearted love

And you are my black hearted love

In the rain, in the evening
I will come again
I'd like to take you
I'd like to take you to a place
I know
My black hearted

Other noteworthy moments are the haunting stomp of the title track; the broken blues of "Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen", and the magnificent closer "Cracks in the Canvas" are all excellent as well.

This isn’t the best PJ Harvey record, but it sure is an interesting side jaunt.

The Verdict: (a very solid) 2.5 out of 5 stars.

PS - OK, I tried to only include a link to this video, but I can't. So here it is: