PJ Harvey & John Parish - A Woman A Man Walked By
From topless indie pin-up to tormented folk mythologist, cult pop monarch Polly Jean Harvey has long exposed and scrutinised the predicaments of the human condition.
She’s populated copious roles over her swaggering, nigh-on 20-year career: doggedly androgynous rock provocateur (1992’s Dry); bile-addled feminist recalcitrant (1993’s Rid of Me); hammed-up, blues-lubed pageant vamp (1995’s To Bring You My Love); Mercury-winning household name (2000’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea); and myriad masquerades hence.
Beneath these deviant sub-cultural veneers, however – and amidst an aesthetic that thrives on murder balladry, bucolic histrionics and cadaverous vernacular – there’s an often overlooked leitmotif that imbues the Dorset popster’s muse: that is to say, she likes a laugh.
Said conviviality has rarely been more evident – or entertaining – than on A Woman A Man Walked By: Harvey’s second album in cahoots with enduring collaborator and co-producer John Parish. The tumultuous axe rapture of opening track ‘Black Hearted Love’ initiates a darkly comic (yet frequently poignant) assault of colossal riffage, ukulele freak-outs, mangy soul and brawny R&B.
It variously witnesses our stirring protagonist excogitate the joys of offal (the epically deranged title track); imitate Macy Gray (the porch-swing dirge of ‘April’); and, best of all, bark like a dog (the ludicrous, grunge-pillaging ‘Pig Will Not’).
If such aberrant revelry is at odds with the luminous rigour of 2007’s White Chalk – an album hailed as Harvey’s finest to date – it’s testament to her relentless inventiveness: dismembering guises; defiling confines; violating the knackered rock canon. And what do you know: she’s smiling.