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White Chalk by P J Harvey (Island)

To slightly contort the old rib-tickler, Q: “What’s the definition of a gentleman?” A: “A man who can play the bagpipes, but doesn’t.”, let us instead ask, Q: “What is the definition of P J Harvey on her new album, While Chalk?” A: “A woman who can play electric guitar, but doesn’t.” Indeed, the only prominently discernable fretboard work here, on the title track and – paradoxically – ‘The Piano’, is a strummed acoustic. Elsewhere, it’s keyboards all the way. That’s right, the Devon Diva is exploring her debt to Brontesque Kate Bushisms, particularly on a cut like ‘Grow, Grow, Grow’, at the expense of her more Beefheartian leanings. Still, it’s rare that music this ethereally supernatural is also this gut-wrenchingly visceral. When combined with lyrical content dealing with abortion and/or miscarriage, deceased family members, and being dead herself, it can only get eerier. Chilling, and quite extraordinary.

First published in Magill, April/May 2008

















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