Tuesday, February 9, 2010

435. To Bring you my Love. When White girls get the blues.

Album: To Bring you my Love.

Artist: PJ Harvey.

Year: 1995

Genre: Blues.

  1. To Bring You My Love
  2. Meet ze Monsta
  3. Working for the Man
  4. C'mon Billy
  5. Teclo
  6. Long Snake Moan
  7. Down by the Water
  8. I Think I'm a Mother
  9. Send His Love to Me
  10. The Dancer

The first time I heard this album I made the mistake of listening to it at a fairly low volume. I thought PJ Harvey fit more into the folk mode and that I was due for a train trip of fairly sedate acoustic music. I was completely wrong. I started being wrong from pretty much the first track but I became completely and totally incorrect at track six, a song called Long Snake Moan which demands to be played at full volume. When I reached this song I stopped it about two minutes in and started it up again at the loudest crank my MP3 player could muster. I pushed the volume to a point that was not only audible to my fellow commuters but could be clearly heard by the people our train hurtled past. Even if they were sitting cars. Listening to music of their own. At full volume.

Long Snake Moan frankly blew me away. It bowled me over so convincingly that when it finished I’d been blown four carriages back down the train. There’s real power in this song. It’s one of those tracks that should come with a government health warning and shouldn’t be listening to while operating heavy machinery. It’s not just loud it’s got grunt, balls and chutzpah in equal doses. The bass player churns out lines that rumble seismically more than musically. The drummer sounds like he’s pounding skins in order to raise the dead and the guitar makes noises that suggest he’s one of the deceased the drums just brought back to life. Over the top of it all is PJ churning out the sort of power-vocals that should never pour forth from someone named Polly. Harvey is no folkie, she’s no punk either, she’s pure blues.

There are lots of great traditions in the blues. It’s a style of music that has its own series of motifs and codes and the better the performer understands them the better they work. You could write a song about the struggles you were having dealing with the planning permissions laid down by your local suburban council which are preventing you from building a carport but it wouldn’t be the blues. It might be sad, it might use blues chords, it might even be called Zoning permit blues but it wouldn’t be The Blues. PJ Harvey understands the blues. She sets her songs in desolate locations, she deals with issues of true angst and she knows that the blues and the spiritual world go hand in hand. The songs on To Bring you my love delve heavily into religious imagery. God is mentioned often but in ways that suggest he’d be displeased. The Devil is actively at work in the world and Jesus is someone that you can appeal to for help. Just to make sure Christianity doesn’t get all the credit and blame, Voodoo gets a regular mention, which is a fine old blues tradition. A further blues trope is honoured in the presence of blatant sexual innuendo. I haven’t checked but I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the Long Snake PJ is referring to doesn’t possess scales, a forked tongue or more than one eye.

I’ve become a big fan of this album. I really like Harvey and the ways she goes about making music. The band behind her aren’t full of flash and bombast, there’s no soloing or technical wizardry and no added frills. But there is a perfect backdrop for her lyrics. PJ Harvey relates personal tales and compelling narratives and her band paints a realistic backdrop behind her which gives her narrative a much greater impact. The most celebrated track on To Bring you my love is Down By The Water, a tale about a woman who drowns her young baby. It might not be the cheeriest subject matter but then this is the blues. The really cool thing is the way that Harvey relates the tale, she’s worked with Flood (who is a producer not a meteorological event) to turn her narrative lyrics into a compelling tale. When she repeats the final line (Little fish big fish swimming in the water, come back here and give me my daughter) during the coda it’s no longer PJ Harvey singing but a deranged woman who is genuinely appealing to pond life for the return of the infant she’s just murdered. She doesn’t sing the line she delivers it in a passionate whisper which is eerie and really catchy.

This album definitely goes on the “cool discovery pile.” I started listening to the albums on this list in order to broaden my musical horizons and this particular vista is a desert populated by god and the devil and the powers of voodoo and infanticide. It’s a strangely spooky place but one I’ll revisit often.

Highlight: Long Snake Moooaaaan. Lowlight: The Dancer. Influenced by: The Blues, crossroads, the devil and the delta. Influenced: Not sure but I'd like to hear them.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I know it's not me, but I found nothing on this CD even remotely listenable. This is horrible crap. Apparently, those who deem it great and all must have all of their taste in their mouth. After I listened to my copy I am now using it as a coaster. Works better that way." - I don't think anyone buys coasters anymore. Judging by the number of reviews on amazon who declare their least favourite music is now a small drinks mat I think the coaster industry has gone totally belly up. Coaster makers across the land must be drowning their sorrows in bars and sobbing bitterly as they rest their drinks on unwanted copies of PJ Harvey albums. Spare them a thought. So does PJ make you Perfectly Jubilant or is she Pure Junk? Let me know below.

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