Thursday, July 5, 2018

DON'T YOU DON'T YOU WISH YOU NEVER NEVER MET HER: I volunteered to write a short essay on PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me for the Best Album of 1993 tournament run by the anachronistic Twitter handle @BestAlbum95, and I thought I’d post it here. In a minute I’ll get to why you—all of you, including the dwindling number of ALOTT5MAers still punching Hurley's numbers into the Dharma box—should follow @BestAlbum95 and vote for Rid of Me. But first, I’ll let David Thomas, author of the worst review ever to defile the pages of a then-major publication, tell you why you shouldn’t vote for Rid of Me:
I was disposed to like Rid of Me, the second from the current darling of British street-cred arbiters. The guitars are hard and up-front without being stoopid[*]. The production is wonderful: abstracted, uncompromised, poetic, and mostly like listening to a cheap stereo with one channel shot away — often stunning. Polly Jean Harvey is an inventive and passionate singer. The ingredients were lined up for something good to happen. Only trouble is, gee whiz, this is one of those angry-woman-spews-sexual-politics records. It has no heart. It speaks not of the hopes and fears of people like you and me, but of doctrine. Like a Led Zeppelin record: sounds great, means nothing. Unless, of course, you want to buy the flavor-of-the-month PC attitude, stick it in your head, and parade it like a banner. D
In other words: I loved every single thing about this album, but I am giving it a D because I would like to punish the practice of women having thoughts that I have not approved. So here’s Reason Number One to vote for Rid of Me: because #FuckDavidThomas.

*Sic, or anyway I need to point out that this person intentionally used the word "stoopid" in a review.

The second, and equally constructive, reason to vote for Rid of Me is that it is the greatest of the four or five masterpieces of 1993. It is titanic, brash, louche, hilarious. It careers recklessly between hiss, boast, howl, and sob. Harvey has said that she wanted the album to be confrontational, “to cause a riot,” and she and her fracturing band, locked up in Steve Albini’s isolated Minnesota studio, delivered.

 Take the first track. Rid of Me begins with a muted rhythm on two guitar strings, a taut, controlled seethe, mirrored by a barely-audible tap on a loose snare that sounds like somebody dropping something in the background, plus maybe a bass, I can't tell, and soon joined by Harvey’s half-whispered, half-moaned pleas and threats. It’s mixed so quietly that it invites the listener to keep turning the volume knob just to make it audible, a clever trick (used probably once too often on this album, but beautiful here) that pays off when the band suddenly shifts into a crashing wall of sound under Harvey’s commanding shout, carrying the Pixies’ and Nirvana’s quiet-loud template to its logical extreme, before dissolving into Harvey’s third voice of the song, an unsettling hoarse falsetto bearing an equally unsettling instruction. It was enough to befuddle Jay Leno and Michael Richards.

And if you like it, that's the Polly Harvey who showed up for most of this album, with the twin anthems of gender-twisting braggadocio, Man-Size and 50ft Queenie, the crisp menace of Rub 'Til it Bleeds, the sardonic Dry. Also, track down the band’s unhinged cover of Wang Dang Doodle, which inexplicably didn’t make the album but showed up as the B-Side to Man-Size. Those are the songs that built the character Harvey would play on this album and her next, To Bring You My Love: larger-than-life, elegant, with a penchant for sudden, intimate violence. But the album also buries other treasures among those songs. Its second track, Missed, is a lush, aching (and cleanly produced, for you Albini haters) ballad of a woman sick with grief; the alternate version of Man-Size dials the anger back to "conversational" but undergirds it with dissonant strings; Ecstasy prefigures the loosely translated blues of To Bring You My Love.

It's a great album. Not loving it would be a character flaw.

Bonus terrible review, from Andy Gill in The Independent, via Spin’s oral history of the album:
Rid of Me is one long clumsy galumph, an extended tantrum of foot-stomping and frowns.
I mean, I guess that's one (point-missingly reductive) way to look at it. But seriously, #FuckDavidThomas.

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