PJ Harvey – I Inside the Old Year Dying (Partisan/Liberator)

PJ Harvey takes us back and forward while worshipping at the feet of Wyman-Elvis. Confused? So am I, but hang in there.

It’s been seven full years since Polly Jean released The Hope Six Demolition Project, an album I liked so much, I accidently bought it twice. I wasn’t alone as it was PJ’s first to go to number one in the UK.

PJ HarveyBut it’s been a long, strange seven years and, according to the supplied press notes, Ms Harvey “lost her connection with music” concentrating on poetry resulting in last year’s book, Orlam, PJ’s second book of verse.

Fortunately,  the poetry helped Harvey reconnect with her muse and she began writing again, turning out these 12 songs in just three weeks.

Then the hard work began.

Harvey reunited her team…John Parish and Flood…both of whom co-produced the previous chart-topping album…but this time PJ wanted something different.

So what we have now, is exactly that…something very different, yet still uniquely PJ Harvey.

Apparently there was a lot of improvisation in the studio between the trio along with some field recordings and a help from English actor and producer Ben Whishaw, who can be heard harmonizing with PJ on a couple of tunes here.

But this is not an album built on harmony…dissonance is definitely more the watchword

The record begins with Prayer At The Gate. We hear a hiss, a whir and a military drum beat and then a voice.

Is that Polly?

Flood urged PJ not to use her ‘PJ Harvey’ voice and so we get a very different sounding PJ.

Harvey has said these songs offer, ‘a resting space, a solace, a comfort, a balm – which feels timely for the times we’re in’.

But these are not comforting times and so this first track sounds eerie, unearthly and unsettling.

We first hear Polly singing an inviting ‘do do do do do’ but then things get weird.

‘Wyman am I worthy’ she sings in a clear, high voice.

By the end its, ‘So look behind and look before/At life a-knocking at death’s door’

Not the resting place I had in mind.

Elsewhere, PJ seems to take on an Elvis obsession. She sings a bit of Love Me Tender during A Child’s Question, August, another tune is titled Lwonesome Tonight, as in Are You Lonesome Tonight. The Olde English spelling is hers, from middle age Dorset, perhaps.

Fellow poets William Barnes and Samuel Coleridge provide inspiration and by the time I got to A Child’s Question, July and the lyric about licking toads and asking hedgerows, I half expected to hear Robert Plant going on about Evermore.

All kidding aside, this is an album that demands repeated, close listening. I’ve lived with it for about a week and I’m still not sure what is going on, but I think I’m warming to it.

Things finally get loud on the last track, A Noiseless Noise as a ‘cold moon comes down, curdling, curdling’, a cacophony of sound threatens to let England shake once more.

I Inside the Old Year Dying is not for the faint of heart, for adventurous ears only.

Marty Duda

PJ Harvey’s I Inside the Old Year Dying is released June 7th. 

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