PJ Harvey
Dry


4.0
excellent

Review

by Pallyo USER (2 Reviews)
November 7th, 2007 | 19 replies | 7,212 views


Release Date: 1992 | Tracklist


5 of 5 thought this review was well written




I’ve always found something really attractive about PJ Harvey. To be fair, I’ve always had a soft spot for women with a bit of attitude; it sounds lame, but there’s just something fascinating about it: a typically masculine characteristic of aggression funnelled through the traditionally soft veneer of femininity. It seems that in everyday circumstance we are either blind to it in its subtle guises, or unnerved and rattled through its forceful manifestation in ‘militant feminism’. A masculine girl is treated as something undesirable, alien and subversive – but although ***ing with gender may be uncomfortable for some, it is interesting in how it challenges preconceived notions of what men and women ‘should’ be. It’s this androgyny that PJ Harvey seems to toy with, and is ultimately what makes 'Dry' such engrossing and compelling listening.

When I watch interviews with Polly Jean, it’s often hard to imagine how this elfin beauty, diffident and stepped in modesty, can produce a sound so powerfully raw, deep, and masculine. The guitars on 'Dry' are often thick and lacerating, combining with heavy rhythms and stark, scratchy strings. From the outset, it’s clear there is an ironic bent to some of her songs. On initial listening, it sounds as if 'O My Lover' is a submissive plea to another half of an imbalanced relationship. But there is something in the way she sings that seems to make it disingenuous, as if to mock the stereotype of the love sick girl hopelessly trying to please her man. The lines, “Oh my sweet thing/Oh my honey thighs”, in the context of the song seem out of place somehow – almost too sweet and forgiving. Yet this derisive tone appears to subside as the song progresses, and it seemingly becomes increasingly sincere. I can never really decide: perhaps it reflects both the pathetic and the unavoidably heartfelt, yet irrationally blind, nature of such a relationship.

Elsewhere the sarcastic sentiment is more overt, such as on 'Sheela-na-gig', which is, in my opinion, one of the album’s strongest tracks. Beginning with the lines, “Look at these my child bearing hips/Look at these my ruby red ruby lips” any ambiguity is laid swiftly to rest, especially in the cheeky manner in which they are sung. This, combined with the symbolism of Sheela-na-gig (a Celtic female Goddess typically portrayed in carvings with exaggerated genetalia) playfully portrays the power of female fertility and rampant sexuality. Once again, although he apparently indulges, rejection is the response from the proposed lover: “He said “wash your breasts, I don’t want to be unclean”/He said “please take those dirty pillows away from me””. The whole affair is set to a driving rhythm with a dirty and growling guitar sound, that midway through the song, morphs into this hazy lead and seems to rise from the grit and permeate out. It has this amazing anthemic yet ethereal feel to it, as if it would echo and float to all corners, radiating from the main body of the song. It’s at base about ***ing, and then the guilt about ***ing. The ‘uncleanliness’ apparently resulting from relations with a sexual and predatory women. She’s wild, out of control and raw, opposed to the traditionally tamed and deferent paradigm of the ‘good wife’.

Admittedly, it’s easy to overmilk the lyrics in 'Dry', but it’s hard not to read into them when they seem to be crafted so intelligently and littered with metaphor. I was quite surprised when Polly Jean admitted apathy with regard to Feminism, and attested to generally being apolitical - mainly because of her admission to not fully understanding the nature of Feminism and the ‘baggage’ that came with it. But despite these explicit rebuttals of political engagement, I still believe they should be taken with a certain degree of caution: there’s just too much seemingly blatant referencing. If she doesn’t endorse a political movement she certainly seems to skirt with the issues; perhaps a tactful reservation against blanket labelling- ironically what i'm trying to do - touché.

But how else can you begin to define such an enigma, even her sound cannot be simply categorised. It’s like she’s taken blues harmonies and filtered them through some industrial furnace, forging her melodies with a dirty layer of scuzz and sweat. The rhythm section is no clean cut gem either, its often dark, powerful and almost tribal, with a consistent use of tom fills to generate an interestingly hollow addition to the burgeoning bass. The great thing, though, is that it’s not just the punk ferocity that takes the cake. One of my favourite sequences on this album is the transition from 'Joe' to 'Plants and Rags', and then to 'Fountain'. The first is probably the most intense song on Dry. With a rapid and rumbling guitar section, it drives the song at an insisting pace throwing in wails of feedback and distortion along the way. The energy and sheer sound is overwhelming, which is what makes the transition into 'Plants and Rags' such a highlight. Compared to 'Joe' it is so stripped down and organic, from the distant foot tapping keeping time, to the bare and moving acoustic introduction. It sounds so pure and innocent. The almost infantile lines, “I dreamt of a man/He gave fed me fine food/He gave me shiny things” are complemented by a playful, darting set of strings. But this is only one side to this schizophrenic oddity, as thick and jarring cello lurches disrupt the serenity of the introduction quite forcefully. It sounds so out of place and destructive, seeming to emphasise a darker undertone to the song. These two faces wax and wane, melting into each other as if they battle for the dominant persona. It makes the re-emergence of each verse beautifully victorious, before both combine into an increasingly dissonant coda. 'Fountain' explores more dark caverns with a menacing bass lick and subdued and steady guitar chops. From all of this darkness erupt bursts of energy and a wonderful lead up to the final segment, as out of the languorous, non-sensical chanting she soars up: “Out of the blue/It is he/Vision to me/Bearing leaves” - it comes out of nowhere and captures your attention immediately.

It’s probably obvious that I think this album is pretty good, although it’s not faultless. Some of the song structures can at times seem slightly formulaic, using a steady, looping rhythm and a loud/soft dynamic as a base model, like on 'Hair' and 'Water'. Furthermore, although the latter song is not necessarily bad -especially with its interesting 5/4 timing-, it seems too similar in structure to 'Fountain', making it an odd choice to follow. But aside from these minor scratches, I was generally blown away by a lot of the material on this album. It’s passionate and heartfelt, and it’ll blast and caress you in equal measures.


user ratings (170)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
seanhive
November 7th 2007



62 Comments


Great review, you seem insightful. And can I just agree that the woman with a feminine sort of aggressive energy about her can be super, duper, hot. I'm still totally infatuated with the No Doubt Gwen Stefani.This Message Edited On 11.07.07

Yyy
November 7th 2007



289 Comments


yeah dud ese hwas s o hat then

Abaddon2005
November 7th 2007



684 Comments


Fantastic review, especially for a 2nd. Keep writing!

funhouse
November 7th 2007



28 Comments


this isnt my favorite PJ album, but it still kicks some ass.

good review too.

Iai
Emeritus
November 7th 2007



3553 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yeah, like others have said, really great review.

I need more early Peej.

Meatplow
November 8th 2007



5524 Comments


Fantastic review, pos rep ++.

I've been listening to this for the past week or so constantly, like you I have a fascination with her persona.

I have listened to a couple of her albums (namely To Bring You My Love & Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea) and a handful of songs and colloborations, I find a lot of her her music beautiful, dark and raw all in one. Dry is a very good album.

smokersdieyounger
November 8th 2007



672 Comments


I really wanna get dry, because I've heard its like a more varied 'rid of me'. PJ Harvey is one of my favourite songwriters.

Meatplow
May 8th 2009



5524 Comments


Listening to this tonight, brings the nostalgia :D

KittensandScorpions
May 8th 2009



172 Comments


"To be fair, I’ve always had a soft spot for women with a bit of attitude; it sounds lame, but there’s just something fascinating about it"

I know! It's like seeing a dog wearing clothes.

Meatplow
July 8th 2009



5524 Comments


This really is a great album, one of my favourites.

MassiveAttack
November 2nd 2009



2684 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

What a great debut.

jefflebowski
January 27th 2012



6851 Comments


seriously good album, Sleater-Kinney sound like they took more than a few pointers from it too

jefflebowski
January 27th 2012



6851 Comments


also dropping in to say that Joe fucking rocks

luschlotz
May 19th 2012



993 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

amazing review. fantastic album. better than rid of me imo

ArsMoriendi
April 12th 2014



2202 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I've been in a huge mood for this album lately. It's such a classic.

Digging: Laurie Anderson - Big Science

Chrisjon89
April 12th 2014



2979 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

gotta listen to this and Rid Of Me again. all her 90s stuff actually. i'm way more familiar with Stories, White Chalk and Let England Shake

Digging: Elizabeth Rose - Elizabeth Rose

ArsMoriendi
April 17th 2014



2202 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

To Bring You My Love is my favorite of her's, I have heardn't White Chalk or Let England shake yet though... I've heard the
rest of her stuff however.

Chrisjon89
April 17th 2014



2979 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

that rules but I've only heard it twice. only heard Rid Of Me once and i'm not as keen on that. this one is great. my favourite right now is out of Stories and Let England Shake. still missing Uh Huh Her

ArsMoriendi
April 17th 2014



2202 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Uh Huh Her is probably my least favorite so far, but its a grower. Any album of hers you don't like on the first listen becomes a classic upon 3rd or 4th, she just has that effect, at least on me.



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