Lock up your children, P.J’s back, and whatever ray of sunshine illuminated her life during the recording of last album Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea has definitely clouded over. Where Stories… teetered on the brink of the mainstream, recorded by an artist on the verge of emotional stability, Uh Huh Her is a little less balanced and more like her earlier work. But far from being a regression to past glories it makes perfect sense in the progression of her career. If Stories… was the post-coital glow, Uh Huh Her is the slap of regret the morning after.
And what a morning after. Shorn of anything approaching the gloss of the last album, with minimal instrumentation and production, Uh Huh Her is stripped down and red-raw, a reminder that Ms. Harvey was doing this garage-rock-goddess thing way before most of the current crop of wannabes had even bummed their first Marlboro. Uh Huh Her is still an intensely, at times uncomfortably, personal affair.
So while it feels like an album made out of the wreckage of a relationship, you’re never quite sure whether Polly Jean is the shunned or the shunner. Is the anger bilious or contemptuous? Early on it’s the former, “The Life And Times Of Mr Badmouth” is all hissed blame (“Your lips taste like poison / You’ll be the unhappy one”), and “Who The Fuck” is an apoplectic scream of disdain with P.J. asking disbelievingly, “Who the fuck / Do you think you are?” But “Pocket Knife” is delivered in such a witheringly mocking tone, presumably at the poor sap caught in her web trying to get her to commit, that it’s clearly Polly in charge. By the end she’s back playing the part of the injured party. Playing it well too. And when, reeking of bitter experience, Polly defiantly claims “Promises, Promises / I’m feeling burned / You taught me a lesson I didn’t want to learn” on the album closer “The Darker Days Of Me & Him,” you believe this whole escapade has a well understood moral. Like P.J. Harvey herself, Uh Huh Her is dark, complex, sexy and more than a little scary.
You can download a DRM-crippled wma file of “The Letter” here.