PJ Harvey

Alternate versions: ‘Oh my lover’ PJ Harvey (Peel Session, 1991 & Dry, Too Pure, 1992) plus Nina Simone

To begin with the essential sweetness of this demo version …

Underneath one of the videos posted online someone had written how PJ Harvey had recorded this demo as a teenager to get her first record deal; she sounds so young here, her voice is noticeably different, lacking the magisterial nature of the final recorded version. What’s interesting is the way this youthful voice dilutes the ‘female masochistic-schtick’ critique that could be levelled at the lyrics, as what comes through is the giddy enthusiasm, the excitement, spinning in a lovely exuberance (that total devotion thing fed to women via a lifetime of fairy-tales of all kinds), it’s got total bounce.

Love the way she doubles her voice at the end, it’s so impressive on every level: song-writing, performance, creative vision. As for the recorded version that came out on 1992 debut:

From that opening moment, the intensity of it: this is just one of those extraordinary songs. Listen to that distorted bass/guitar and the unexpected phrasing of the drums. It is archetypal – a folk song transposed to the modern era, timeless. It reminds me of this similarly magical live 1969 performance by Nina Simone of ‘Black is the color of my true love’s hair’ for the same seriousness of intent, declaration: the strength of the woman’s voice.

Here’s the Peel Sessions version from 1991, which sounds almost the same as the recorded version, which further demonstrates the level of Harvey’s musicianship (she was born in 1969, so only was only 22-years-old or so at the time of recording). Check out this interesting video with Harvey speaking about her creative, song writing process put up in 2011.    


Related article: PJ Harvey 'Silence' (White Chalk, Island Records 2007) published 27th February 2016

I have written a lot on Nina Simone on this site, go here to find all the references.   

PJ Harvey 'Silence' (White Chalk, Island Records, 2007)

All those places
Where I recall the memories
That gripped me
And pinned me down

I go to these places
Intending to think
To think of nothing
No anticipate

And somehow expect
You’ll find me there
That by some miracle
You’d be aware

Ordinary, nothing special cars; super-imposed onto a screen and then the repeated close-up onto something that you can't see. Despite my default setting of teenage kicks, I keep wanting to write about 'quiet' (in hip-hop; in other music).

I love the way they have layered that soft drum-beat, sibilant over the rest of the sounds here: 'I freed myself from my family/I freed myself from work/I freed myself
I freed myself/And remained alone.'

This drumming, ever-present but disappearing makes me think of this beautiful song that we all know where the sweet confidence of the vocals is supported by a similarly reticent, but central syncopated drum-beat. 

(You could write an entire essay on the importance of the backing vocals in this song; 'forever and ever ... ' the way the sheer certainty of the delivery and clarity of sound become a driving force).   

PJ Harvey: all morning I tried to find a live recording, where her expressive vocals, her expression of longing was offered a counter-point by found noise, people speaking, the sound of glass; what the sound engineers used to call atmosphere ('atmos') and then I discovered this (again).