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PJ Harvey

To Bring You My Love

Island

Released: 11th September 2020

LP 180g Reissue£21.99 Buy Now In Stock. Dispatched on Monday.


Vinyl Reissue
Released for the first time, P.J. Harvey's demos for her gothic masterpiece To Bring You My Love on CD/LP will be issued at the same time as a vinyl reissue of the studio album.

By 1995, PJ Harvey had already served various incarnations of monsters to unwitting ears. With her raw debut Dry and its even more aggressive, Albini-produced terror Rid Of Me, Harvey had portrayed raw, emotive images of femininity both vulnerable and violent. With much of the imagery used to promote these records, Harvey contorted her own body in gritty, semi-nude photographs shot in monochrome. Her lyrics described violent states, victimisations, emotions swirling powerfully in fragile characters - often assumed, often erroneously, to be the artist journalling autobiographically. Musically, the component parts of rock music were cut back down to the bare essentials, allowing an emotive brutality to guide each song’s eternal dynamics. Arguably, these were images and visions of horror - body horror, violent horror - devoid of sexuality. It’s an element that’s often aurally challenging about much of P.J. Harvey’s early work: the artist is subverting the inherent carnality in rock ’n’ roll, transmogrifying it into an often terrifying energy which retains a near sexual, thrilling aggression that challenges us to reconsider the whole rock n roll dynamic.

To Bring You My Love introduced a new P.J. Harvey, dressed in silk and satin, heavily made up, strong reds and greens where once was black and white, almost bleeding colour through the frame. With a slightly different colour scheme, Harvey could easily have been mistaken for a singer in Dee-Lite or as a cult, vampy cabaret singer from the mid-60s. The effect was a staggering contrast to Rid Of Me-era Harvey, and it almost seems intentionally confusing and challenging to listeners at the height of Nuts, Oasis and toxic masculinity writ large as a cultural movement. This was a conventionally beautiful woman playing with the prescribed imagery favoured by the patriarchy in an act of defiance. It's a beautiful perversion that taunts and evades the male gaze but one listen to To Bring You My Love reveals this as a powerful play by a true master of drama. 

Harvey’s core musical principle until this point was minimalism, often 3 instruments used sparingly until the crucial point of explosion. Rid Of Me is a masterclass in tension and release and To Bring You My Love is the perfect chaser to that album's dryness. Harvey’s 3rd album opens with the titular To Bring You My Love, a slow funeral jam - emphasised by the funeral parlour organ accompaniment - that’s crushed by the singer’s imperious vocal. Whether Harvey’s music was autobiographical before or not, we’re now in a mythical territory, here Harvey is a leviathan, medusa-like figure cursed post-coitus by the devil himself, born in the desert, climber of mountains and bringer of a terrible, all-consuming love. If the Horror genre in fiction and film is often populated with distorted female figures that threatened men (think anything from Alien, Species, The Exorcist, Carrie), here Harvey used the female figure and sexuality to paint a planet-devouring hunger, desire as a gothic character in a man-eating horror story. 

Harvey’s portrayal of an aggressive femininity on To Bring You My Love was her greatest, most thrilling character change, a deft sleight of hand that used sexuality to paint a new Frankenstein, this time fuelled by desire, reclaiming the body for itself. We’re literally meeting Ze Monster. On that song (Meet Ze Monster), a marching almost industrial production by renowned helmsman Flood pummels the ears while we’re left confused as to who the monster is. Is it this thing Harvey is categorically not scared of or is it the narrator. “What a monster, what a night, what a lover, what a fight.” The rumbling, fuzz bass, breaking up in the speaker cones is a constant doom. The effect is to almost emasculate the male listener as they’re being aurally excited. It’s a feat repeated on Long Snake Moan, a monolithic rock song injected with an American mythological rock power. Again, Harvey’s love is too big for us, a drowning force too big, too awesome. Like elsewhere on the album there’s images of storms, gods, desire as a world-ender.

C’mon Billy, a single released from the album with a cinematic video that married an almost an American Wild West aesthetic with cabaret tropes, injected a flamenco-induced sensuality into a woman/mother scorned narrative. A much more seductive groove than Harvey fans were used to, it illustrated a ravenous longing that served as part 1 to Send His Love To Me’s part 2. Is it the same character in both songs? A young mother mourning the loss of her man, it is wide-scope with minor guitar chords played rhythmically to string sections bringing out the theatrics in Polly Jean’s voice. Watching the video to the later song, you feel like you’re in the intense, over-wraught emotion of the wife of a fallen cowboy in a Morricone-scored Spaghetti Western. Working For The Man sees Harvey close up to the mic, distorted and in the ear to a seductive, dubby groove. She’s changing characters with each song almost, here flirting with a vulnerability, coy, a cartoon of traditional notions of femininity.

The power of suggestion is everywhere on To Bring You My Love. On Down By The Water, the mother is seen as a terrible force of moral rectitude over a snake-like bass-led groove. Harvey’s use of fuzz bass on this album lends much of the colour, its a powerful texture that often has more impact when in the spaces it leaves when it’s silence. Down By The Water grounds the beat, almost drowns the song like character does her child. You could compare this song to Nick Cave’s work with the Bad Seeds at the same time, but Harvey’s delivery is perhaps more nuanced or at least informed by the male gaze it’s operating within at the time. It’s another tale of monstrous femininity, the murderous mother that induces a cognitive dissonance in the listener with its lush instrumentation and hip-shaking groove. I Think I’m A Mother picks this up and references Captain Beefheart in the process (specifically Dropout Boogie), just like Meet Ze Monster references Bat Chain Puller- Cap. It’s another menacing rumbler playing with motherhood, desire and sensuality. All of the album’s themes are brought to a resolution of sorts by the filmic The Dancer. The funeral organ, the vaguely flamenco/spanish chord changes, a burning desire for the other almost nightmarish and shocking in scale. 

To Bring You My Love is being reissued on vinyl with a never-before released edition of demos for the album, released as a stand alone vinyl LP.