Monday, 7 January 2008

Chalk Marks

So, what did you get for Christmas? Me? Well, in addition to the limited edition complete 1978 season ‘Dr Who and the Key to Time’ DVD boxset (Hahaha, it’s sold out now, and I’ve got one!!) I also received the latest CD from Polly Jean Harvey entitled ‘White Chalk’ which features a beautifully demure picture of her in a virginal white dress on the cover.

I have had a conditional relationship with PJ, dipping in and out of her career as the urge took me whilst she ploughed her lonely furrow over the last 15 years or so. Whilst I admire her greatly and like a great deal of her work, I find her albums difficult to listen to in their entirety (all except ‘Stories from the City…’ anyway). But ‘White Chalk’ is something else – brittle, haunting and utterly captivating.

By all accounts, she decided to discard her trusty jagged guitar and learn to play the piano. All the songs on this CD are piano based and this probably explains why they are so different to her usual fare. John Lennon, as a guitarist, once said that he preferred writing at the piano as it was a lesser-known instrument and he didn’t fall into the trap of following well-known chord sequences. I suspect the same applies to PJ and it has produced a magical album.

In the early 1990s, the music magazine ‘Q’ decided that the future of females in music was represented by PJ Harvey, Björk and Tori Amos and to be fair they were not far wrong. The three of them were gathered together for a joint interview and the result published on a wave of hype. The interesting point from all this is that all these years later ‘White Chalk’ sounds very close to what you would expect a collaboration between the other two sides of the ‘Q’ triangle, Björk and Tori Amos might sound like! It marries Amos’s kooky piano to Björk’s melodic invention and then sprinkles it with the lyrical directness that makes it a PJ album without doubt.

The other thought that occurs to me is this: is PJ the female Neil Young? Many songs on this album, especially the title track ‘White Chalk’, have the same wistful out-on-the-range feel that Neil’s ‘Harvest’ invokes and PJ’s other albums make use of the fuzzy guitar in a way the Southern Man would’ve been proud. And I can just see her in a Stetson. But perhaps not joining the Spice Girls (talented Spice?) or Girls Aloud in a CSN & Y sort of way.

All in all a very satisfying Christmas present.


Jayne Ferst said...

Hello! I hope you have been well, been catching up with your posts - love 'DVD enabler to the stars' for that title alone!!

I never got into PJ Harvey, probably because my music tastes appear to be sadly quite commercial in some respects.
Interesting post about her though.

For Christmas music wise (and this probably reveals more about my odd tastes in music) I got a fantastic book on Top of the Pops, called Mishaps, Miming and Music. Oh it is brilliant, I do recommend it as a New Year treat should you not already have it. A nice slice of retro nostalgia!

musicobsessive said...

Hi! You didn't get washed away in the flood, then? I guess you have had more time to write your novel instead of fiddling around with these blogs!
Do have a listen to 'White Chalk' - even non-PJ fans will probably like it.
Yes, I have seen the TOTP book but as I got the previous book, a history of TOTP back in 2002, another seemed like a bit of an extravagance, but my birthday comes up next month...(and I get one this year as well!!)