Spin Control, June 6


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.



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.