Review Summary: Although Uh Huh Her has its moments of brilliance, it’s the only album in her entire discography to lack originality for most of the track listing, making it her only non-essential.
PJ Harvey has a habit of completely reinventing her sound from album to album. Drastic shifts, such as the change from the resigned gothic themes of Is This Desire (1998)
to sunshiny pop rock themes of Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000)
, allow each of her albums to stand out as something fresh and essential. Despite this, by borrowing ideas from the five albums that preceded it, 2004’s Uh Huh Her
becomes the only album in Harvey’s discography that doesn’t feel like a step in a new direction.
When it comes to instrumentation and vocal stylings of Harvey, even the majority of the album highlights can be effortlessly be compared to her previous work. For instance, the track “Who the ***?” shares the same exact gritty punkiness as many of the tracks from 1993's Rid of Me
, while “The Darker Days of Me & Him” could easily have been an outtake from Is This Desire?
due to its reserved mellow gothic atmosphere. The worst example of this is the track “Shame,” which is in the same exact style as the majority of Stories
. One exception to this is the wrathful opener, “The Life and Death of Mr. Badmouth,” which is one of the strongest songs in Harvey’s entire discography, and also one of the most original tracks on the album. Despite being reminiscent of her earlier work, these three songs are actually incredibly enjoyable, so it’s easy to forgive her for being derivative.
Although many of the reminiscent tracks are great, the best of them fall within the first half of the album, sadly. Once we reach the sixth track “The Slow Drug,” another Is This Desire?
reject, the only song even close to a highlight left is the closer “The Darker Days of Me & Him.” Thus, there are eight tracks ranging from decent to bland for the listener to endure. Speaking of bland-as-hell tracks, the pointless and repetitive “No Child of Mine” sounds like an unfinished demo tacked on last minute. However, “No Child of Mine” is a classic compared to absurd interlude “Seagulls.” It’s literally one minute and eleven seconds of seagulls squawking. Even if you could argue that this is a good palate cleanser, the existence of the instrumental “The End,” only two tracks earlier, serves the same purpose, but is conducive to a satisfying listen.
Despite the lack of originality in the instrumentation, Uh Huh Her
is solid lyrically for most of the vocal tracks. Harvey addressed her mother in the song “Pocket Knife” with lyrics such as “Flowers I can do without, I don't wanna be tied down” and “I'm not trying to break your heart, I'm just trying not to fall apart” to express a cross-generational conflict on the fading necessity of marriage. This is only one of the many interesting ideas brought up throughout the album. There are some failings in the lyrical department though such the immaturity of “Who the ***?” or the aforementioned repetitiveness of “No Child of Mine.”
Impressively, Uh Huh Her
is the only album where Harvey takes responsibility in nearly all aspects of production and instrumentation, to include: vocals, guitars, bass, piano, melodica, accordion, and autoharp, excluding percussion. She was also the producer, engineer, and mixed most of the tracks. This leaves Uh Huh Her
as an exercise of indomitable control, which unfortunately fizzles in the plodding second half. Of course, with the high standard set by previous works, it's understandable to judge Harvey a bit more harshly this time around. Honestly, with the exception of a few bumps in the road, Uh Huh Her
is far from poor and warrants a listen, even from someone who isn’t a die hard fan.
Highlights: “The Life and Death of Mr. Badmouth”, “Pocket Knife”, “The Letter”, “The Darker Days of Me & Him”