PJ Harvey - album review (5 stars)

White Chalk (Island)

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PJ Harvey - album review

Over the years we have come to expect the unexpected from this Yeovil-born indie legend. However, no one could have prepared us for the radical departure of White Chalk; eleven stark, stripped down ballads inspired by Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Arvo Part and Gorecki and held together by minimal percussion, tinkling pianos, accordions and snatches of strings. As a result, this seventh studio effort is no easy listen, its dark and often disturbing lyrics driven by instrumentation so unsettling and vocals so eerily high pitched, it makes Kid A sound like kiddy pop. Yet it doesn’t take long for the intelligently crafted music to work its magic, and you soon find yourself captivated by the twists and turns of each bewitching melody and strongly compelled to listen to them over and over again.

During a 15-year career that has seen Polly Jean Harvey experiment with a wide range of styles from gritty alt.rock riffage to lush electronica, this is easily her most striking and unique work to date, a veritable musical masterpiece from ghostly opener ‘The Devil’ to the affecting ‘Dear Darkness’, ‘Silence’’s discordant harmonies and the intense refrain of ‘The Piano’. In an age where bands can find success at the click of a friend request and one false move can lead to fickle fans substituting their favourites for another sharper-looking act overnight, Harvey’s mesmeric offering probably won’t make much of an impact on the mainstream, but those savvy enough to persevere will be significantly rewarded. (Camilla Pia)

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