PJ Harvey: White Chalk (Island)

CD Review

Oct 24, 2007 at 2:06 pm

Strangely sexy pathos intact, PJ Harvey's ghostly ethereal voice cuts right to the painful point in the opening seconds of her new disc White Chalk, purring "Soon as I'm left alone, the Devil enters my soul." In "Grow Grow Grow," her shrill voice glides effortlessly back and forth between predatory, feral feline territory and a tissue-sensitive falsetto, over a stark piano arrangement based on simple but unpredictable chord changes. In a catalog where no two records sound alike, White Chalk is likely to one day be considered PJ Harvey's "piano album." Though sonically quieter than her previous efforts, Polly's lyrics and gut-wrenching vocal performances on White Chalk delve deeper than ever into the dark unknown of the fragile human spirit, painting a bleak and tearful picture of a terminally lovesick woman trying to go back to sleep and return to a blissful dream. If this were PJ Harvey's debut, I would never have fallen in love with her. Because, the truth is, it was the Sturm Unt Drang bombast and droll humor of her early work that hooked me. The diminutive damsel with long brown hair, too much makeup, a peculiar wardrobe and a knack for slapping her lover with one hand while clinging to him with the other was a neurotic narcotic nymphette trying to talk you out of loving her. I went the other way, falling for her mess of neuroses like a ton of lovesick bricks. The one-two punch of her first two records put a two-fisted femme-fatale twist on the classic power trio. Since then the fearless Polly Jean has allowed her peculiar muse to lead her further and deeper into the black forest of the wounded heart. Poor little Polly Jean Harvey refuses to relinquish her undying belief in love's ability to resuscitate a bruised and broken heart, even as it continually taunts and eludes her at every turn. Slipping through her fingers like smoke, an ancient yet still so vivid memory of true love still haunts her troubled soul. If God is love, then White Chalk is Polly's private prayer, her soul crying out, "I know you're out there. Please come back to me." Fearless and faithful Little Polly: Bold as love. (Ric Hickey) Grade: A