|She's looking at you looking at her...do you really want to|
know what she's thinking?
And let's be honest, it's not just my friend Fil (maven of the Pogo-A-GoGo Blog) who went insane for Miss Polly Jean back when she first grabbed hold of our collective shirt collars, announced her arrival and threw us down on the floor so she can walk all over us. She wasn't the first female artist to take the male gale and turn it back on her audience as part of her onstage persona; hell, she wasn't even the first one who did it in the 90's. But unlike many of her contemporaries (I'm looking at you, Liz Phair), Harvey has never softened to the point where she was Safe For Lite-FM. Sure, she's softened, and she's cast her musical net much wider than she did when she fronted the P.J. Harvey Trio....but she's kept her output more or less consistent. Much like Tori Amos, the impression I get is that Harvey writes for herself first and foremost, and worries about whether other people will care to listen later.
This is a remix of the very first single Harvey released with the Trio in 1991...and even in this dance-friendly form, it's an angry little song (But then, weren't most of the songs she released as singles from this period? I can't imagine anyone thinking 'Sheila-Na-Gig' a good time anthem, after all). It's about how the female body image is shaped by the aforementioned male gaze, with Harvey at turns hoping the dress she's wearing will make her 'clean and sparkling' for a man when she goes out dancing...all the while being very aware of how uncomfortable the garment is, and how difficult it is to move in the constricting thing, and how it results in her 'spilling out like a heavy loaded fruit tree.' It's the sort of thing Harvey did a lot in her early career, making the listeners uneasy by grinding our face in a reality most similar song scenarios won't give us.
I think it's telling that Harvey continues to be able to do what she wishes musically while others of her class have surrendered to a softer, more commerical sound. While an argument can be made that there was a slight immaturity in these early songs, they are still the seeds from which later, more complex and nuanced albums have sprung from. She has continued to stretch her musical muscles both on her own and with frequent collaborations with other artists. And I always look forward to what she's going to pull out of her bag of tricks next.
Here's the video....