Archive Review::PJ Harvey and John Parish:: A Woman A Man Walked By

If you believe the hype, you know that A Woman A Man Walked By is a complete return to form. The truth is, to this reviewers mind, PJ Harvey has never been off form. Every album from Dry onward has been perfectly executed, artfully dysfunctional and uniquely the work of PJ Harvey. There's nothing on A Woman...that wouldn't delight the hardcore fan of PJ Harvey. 

This album is a follow up to the Dance Hall At Louse Point album released in 1996, on which she collaborated with her long time friend/partner in madness John Parish. Except that this time she's calling herself PJ Harvey, and not Polly Jean Harvey, as she called herself on Dance Hall At Louse Point. The names are also the opposite way round too, with PJ coming first this time around. I'm not exactly sure if this makes a difference or not, but either way, the album is as good a listen as it's predecessor, and only slightly less arty in it's production values. Which is only a good thing in that it makes a different experience than the dense and thick mystery that seemed to cloud over the still brilliant Dance Hall.

Instead, A Woman is very obvious in it's intentions. From the darkly brilliant Black Hearted Lover to the muted yet haunting closer Cracks In The Canvas the modus operandi of Harvey and Parish is very clear. There's enough murder, lust and evil and on these ten songs to get someone into the darkest chamber of Hell on express delivery! And, it feels good. The amount of personalities on display here is like a mental asylum of all of the most bizarre personalities she's utilised on record locked in one room and wrestling for control. 

We have the rockier, dirty Harvey on Pig Will Not and A Woman A Man Walked By/The Crow, the latter containing the semi-hilarious aural experience of Harvey growling "I want his fucking ass" repeatedly. There's also the quieter Harvey as on Leaving California and Cracks In the Canvas. Of course, there's some melancholy as well, such as on Passionless Pointless, a song about a relationship in it's dying embers. And, in common with Dance Hall, there's a song about war, The Soldier, a carefully balanced observation on the futility of it all with some outstanding lyrics at it's heart. 

 But the best part of the album is the mesmerizing instrumentation that John Parish could only provide. He has the affinity to be able to pull off the quiet, the barely there and the very definitely about to rip your ears off sounds that are essential to Harvey's genre. The single Black Hearted Love is enough evidence to me that should John Parish desire to be a bigger thing on the music scene, he can definitely do it. The fact that he chooses obscurity over greater knowledge of his music is admirable and we sense that if he ever had chosen that path this album would never have come to be.

Of course, this is an album of collaboration and both Harvey and Parish are obviously very talented individuals who together have produced an album of such power that it is virtually unable to leave my CD player and unable to leave my consciousness. In that alone, they have succeeded. They've also made an album that is absolutely brilliant, beyond classification. Put it this way, if you liked White Chalk then you'll love A Woman A Man Walked By, in their polar opposites they are perfect partners. Each album is relatively slim, at around half an hour each, and they are both equally as addictive, like sin on a sunny day. What more can I say?

Words by Seba Rashii Culture. Originally published in April 2009. 

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