Polly Jean Harvey (born 9 October 1969) is an English musician hailing from Corscombe, Dorset, known for her darkly humorous, theatrical Alternative Rock sound.
Harvey formed her first band, named "PJ Harvey", as a teenager with drummer Rob Ellis and bassist Ian Olliver, who soon left and was replaced by Steve Vaughan. Drawing on influences from alt-rock bands like The Pixies and Television, the contemporary Grunge movement, blues-rock and Captain Beefheart, the trio independently released their first album Dry in 1992. Dry quickly brought them critical acclaim and attention within the Alternative Rock scene, with Rolling Stone magazine naming her the year's Best Songwriter and Kurt Cobain naming Dry as one of his favourite albums.
Harvey, Ellis and Vaughan signed to Island Records and commenced work on their follow-up album with the help of Record Producer Steve Albini, hired specifically because he produced The Pixies' Surfer Rosa, an album and band Harvey is a huge fan of. The resulting album, Rid of Me, enjoyed critical acclaim for its harsh, grungy sound and its intense songwriting. Ellis and Vaughan left the band after its release and Harvey continued as a solo artist. Her solo career has largely been defined by experimentation, alternating between blues-influenced guitar-heavy angry Punk Rock, catchy pop-rock and subdued, experimental material, all tied together by her darkly humorous lyrics and theatrical performances. She herself has declared that when I'm working on a new record, the most important thing is to not repeat myself.
Among the accolades she has received have been the 2001 and 2011 Mercury Music Prizes (the only Artist to win twice), seven BRIT Award nominations, five Grammy Award nominations and a further two Mercury Music Prize nominations. She was also given an MBE in the 2013 Queen's Birthday Honours list for "services to music". Rolling Stone named her 1992's Best New Artist and Best Singer Songwriter and 1995's Artist of the Year, and placed two of her albums (Rid of Me, To Bring You My Love) on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. She was also rated the number one female rock artist by Q magazine in a 2002 reader poll. Harvey has said that she enjoys performing more than writing and recording because performing is when the music "makes more sense".
Throughout her career, Harvey has collaborated with several other musicians, most of them from the Alternative Rock scene, such as: Nick Cave (contributing vocals to two songs on Murder Ballads), Tricky (a song on Angels With Dirty Faces), the band Sparklehorse (lending guitar, bass and backing vocals to two songs from It's a Wonderful Life), Marianne Faithfull (she produced, wrote and performed on five songs from Before the Poison), Mark Lanegan and Thom Yorke (who sang lead vocals on "This Mess We're In" and provided backing vocals for two other songs from Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea). She has also created two albums in collaboration with John Parish, Dance Hall at Louse Point and A Woman a Man Walked By.
Studio album discography:
- Dry (1992)
- Rid of Me (1993)
- 4-Track Demos (1993) - contains all the demos for the songs from Rid of Me, including a few that were left off the album.
- To Bring You My Love (1995)
- Is This Desire? (1998)
- Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000)
- Uh Huh Her (2004)
- White Chalk (2007)
- Let England Shake (2011)
- The Hope Six Demolition Project (2016)
With John Parish:
- Dance Hall at Louse Point (1996)
- A Woman a Man Walked By (2009)
- 4-Track Demos (1993)
- The Peel Sessions 1991-2004 (2006)
"Tropes from the city, tropes from the sea":
- Anti-Love Song: "Shame"
- Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: "50 Ft. Queenie" from Rid of Me.
- Big Applesauce: Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
- Bookends: "Angelene" starts and ends with the line "My first name's Angeline".
- Careful with That Axe: And how. Pretty much half of Rid of Me was this and a good portion of To Bring You My Love.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Appropriately enough, "Who The Fuck?"
- Cover Version: "Highway 61 Revisited" by Bob Dylan, "Is That All There Is?" by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, "Wang Dang Doodle" by Howlin' Wolf. There's also the version she did of "Satisfaction" along with Björk.
- Double Entendre: "The Letter" is basically a genderflipped AC/DC song in terms of this.
- Duet Bonding: Polly had a romantic fling with Nick Cave around the time she sang "Henry Lee" with him for the album Murder Ballads.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "Seagulls" within Uh Huh Her.
- Female Gaze: "This Is Love":I can't believe life's so complex
When I just wanna' sit here and watch you undress
- Homage: "Memphis" is one to the late Jeff Buckley who was a dear friend of hers.
- Instrumentals: "The End", "Girl"
- Lyrical Dissonance: Used frequently, particularly on Let England Shake. See "The Colour of the Earth", for example, a jaunty quite whistle-able major-key guitar tune set to lyrics about a man hearing his best friend dying alone on the battlefield while crying for help and not being able to do anything about it.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: She switches between Alternative Rock, Avant-garde Music, Country Music, Blues and Pop.
- New Sound Album: Apart from the first two, practically every album she's done has been a significant musical departure from the previous one.
- Nice Hat: As of Let England Shake PJ has been wearing a raven headdress... Thingy at concerts.
- Obsession Song: "Legs."
- Offing the Offspring: "Down by the Water."
- One-Woman Song: "Angelene," "My Beautiful Leah," and "A Perfect Day, Elise." All from Is This Desire??.
- Also "Rebecca" and "Nina In Ecstasy", both B-sides from Is This Desire?
- One-Woman Wail: "The Mountain."
- Radio Voice: Used on the first verse of "Highway 61 Revisited" from Rid of Me, as if to trick the listener into turning up the volume. The second verse, not so much.
- Shout-Out: This happens all over Is This Desire?, with several songs containing lyrics that allude to various works of fiction. "The Wind" and "Catherine" are both about St. Catherine of Alexandria, the former about her life and the latter from the perspective of the emperor Maxentius, who offered to marry her and beheaded her when she refused.
- "Take your dirty pillows away from me!" in "Sheela-na-gig."
- Silly Love Songs: "It's You," "This is Love," among many others.
- Single Stanza Song: "No Child of Mine."
- Slut-Shaming: "Sheela-na-gig" is about being slut shamed by a would be suitor.
- Soprano and Gravel: her duets with both Björk and Thom Yorke with Polly being the gravel part to both songs.
- Her duet with Nick Cave also, where she was the soprano.
- Tomato in the Mirror: "Who Will Love Me Now?" is a narrative song where the character sings of monster in the forest who has done terrible things, the monster lamenting 'who will love me now?' At the end of the song the character reveals they are the monster.
- Vocal Evolution: White Chalk, in particular, showcased a pure folk-style soprano voice that was completely different from the deep blues/rock vocals she'd almost always used before.
- War Is Hell: One of the primary themes of Let England Shake , as well as The Hope Six Demolition Project and subsequent work.
- Woman Scorned: As if the title of Rid of Me wasn't a big enough clue...