*** PJ HARVEY, "UH HUH
One eloquent Irish rock critic dubbed Polly Jean Harvey's first album in
four years "a coroner's report written by a poet," and that's a hard
description to top.
On her last outing, the enigmatic English rocker was uncharacteristically
sunny and upbeat; she was in love, dontcha know, and writing about the joys
of her coupling against the romantic backdrop of New York City. But that
Manhattan and her relationship no longer exist. Though Harvey has always
been adamant that fans shouldn't read her songs as autobiographical, it's
clear on tunes such as "Shame," "The Pocket Knife," "The Life and Death of
Mr. Badmouth" and "The Darker Days of Me and Him" that things ended badly.
Lyrically, Harvey is back in raging banshee mode, seeking bluesy
catharsis from her pain as only a punk rocker scorned can at the man who did
her wrong. Musically, she returns to her roots, revisiting the more
stripped-down, harsh-to-abrasive sounds of "Dry" and "Rid of Me." She
recorded in her home studio in rural Dorset and played almost all of the
instruments --including guitar, bass, autoharp, violin and keyboards --
herself. (Rob Ellis added drums.)
The disc is not the equal of 1995's extraordinary "To Bring You My Love,"
which remains Harvey's masterpiece. But the songs are likely to gain an
added dimension in live performance -- her material always does -- and "Uh
Huh Her" maintains the artist's position as one of the most important voices
of her generation, and a rocker who is simply much too powerful to ignore.
* AUF DER MAUR, "AUF DER MAUR" (CAPITOL)
As a backing player, Vancouver native Melissa Auf Der Maur made a
valuable musical contribution (and an eye-catching addition) to Hole and the
Smashing Pumpkins. But that doesn't mean she's capable or worthy of leading
a band of her own.
Drawing on the help of an impressive roster of cool rock pals --
including drummers Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) and Brant Bjork (Kyuss),
guitarists James Iha (the Pumpkins, A Perfect Circle) and Erik Erlandson
(Hole), singer Mark Lanegan (the Screaming Trees) and Queens of the Stone
Age main men Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri -- Auf Der Maur gives us a set of
songs that straddle the line between stoner rock and mainstream
alternative-rock radio fare circa 1995. But the sound and fury of the big,
stomping production aren't justified by her second-rate songwriting or her
stilted, limited singing.
She's a laughably bad lyricist with embarrassing obsessions with Dungeons
& Dragons-style fantasy and B-movie melodrama. (From the single "Followed
the Waves": "He's just a drunken gambling man / I'm gonna shuffle his
deck clean.") Both her bottom-heavy bass playing and her passion for
gothic posing were better employed with an earlier side project, the cover
band Hand of Doom, where she wisely left the songwriting to the mighty Black
Sabbath. Sorry, Melissa, but you're no Tony Iommi or Geezer Butler, much
less an Ozzy Osbourne.