9. PJ Harvey, To Bring You My Love
Technically, To Bring You My Love is a debut album. Specifically, it’s a solo debut. While it’s the third studio album to bear the name PJ Harvey (and fourth overall, if the self-explanatory 1993 release 4-Track Demos is included in the tally), both Dry and Rid of Me were officially the work of a trio that shared a name with their lead singer and driving creative force. While touring to support Rid of Me, the band began to splinter, and Harvey decided to dissolve the group and effectively reclaim her name as solely her own. Appropriately enough, To Bring You My Love sounds like a declaration of newfound artistry, with Harvey edging towards a more nuanced, layered approach that found on the beautiful punk-fired caterwauling of the earlier releases. Everything here is still raw and menacing, mightily so, but Harvey is clearly pushing herself, testing herself, nurturing a freshly formed variant on her distinctive voice. In a way, it’s a forecast of the absolute masterworks to come. While that’s true, that description needlessly shortchanges the album, since To Bring You My Love is pretty damn impressive all on its own.
The album opens with the title cut, which sounds a little like a blues song pared down to bones that are not only bare, but have also had some of the marrow stripped away. Without losing any edge, Harvey tames her voice in much the same way Patti Smith could calibrate her howl into something tight, fierce, and intoxicating. Harvey sings, “I’ve laid with the devil/ Cursed God above/ Forsaken Heaven/ To bring you my love,” and it really does comes across as a tumultuous soul being cracked open wide. That feeling of dangerous seduction roils throughout the album. “C’mon Billy” is a punchy, aggressive, spectacular enticement (“My little Billy/ Come to your lover’s bed”) laced with animosity over negligence toward a shared offspring (“Don’t you think it’s time now/ You met your only son?”). The songs lays out all the schisms that drive Harvey’s creative vision, as does the spooky lead single “Down by the Water,” which offers the narrative of a mother drowning her child contrasted against the refrain “Little fish, big fish swimming in the water/ Come back here and give me my daughter,” its nursery rhyme cadence dissolving into raspy psychosis.
At practically every turn, Harvey taps into some other form of thrilling sonic conflict. “Meet Ze Monsta” has some of the murky churn of Nick Cave at his darkest (Mick Harvey, long Cave’s secret weapon, guests elsewhere on the album, but it almost feels like his influence infiltrates elsewhere, like spilt blood traveling the seams in a hardwood floor), “Long Snake Moan” is the sound of the bayou being engulfed by hellfire, and “Send His Love to Me” places an anguished cry of isolation against a smartly struck acoustic guitar line. Even at her most tender, there’s a strong sense the softness is from nursing a bruise rather than enjoying an truly unguarded moment. Harvey makes it clear the notching down the volume doesn’t mean the intensity has to abate. Indeed, To Bring You My Love had greater emotional power than her prior work specifically because it takes the complexity that was always at the core of Harvey’s music and expands it, striking out in bold new directions. As I noted at the top, that thrilling instinct would only lead to even greater work in the years ahead.
— An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp
— 64 and 63: Happy Days and Exit the Dragon
— 62-60: Lucky Dumpling, Fight for Your Mind, and Short Bus
— 59-57: Good News from the Next World, Joe Dirt Car, and Tomorrow the Green Grass
— 56 and 55: …And Out Come the Wolves and Clueless
— 54-52: We Get There When We Do, Trace, and Twisted
— 51-49: Thrak, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), and You Will Be You
— 48 and 47: Shamefaced and Here’s Where the Strings Come In
— 46 and 45: 13 Unlucky Numbers and Resident Alien
— 44-42: Elastica, Private Stock, and Death to Traitors
— 41-39: Optimistic Fool, Ben Folds Five, and Above
— 38-36: Collide, Cowboys and Aliens, and Batman Forever
— 35-33: Taking the World by Donkey, One Hot Minute, and Dog Eared Dream
— 32 and 31: Straight Freak Ticket and Besides
— 30-28: Sixteen Stone, Big Dumb Face Shoe Guy, and Cascade
— 27-25: Born to Quit, King, and Hate!
— 24 and 23: Sparkle and Fade and Brown Bag LP
— 22 and 21: University and Pummel
— 20 and 19: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Thread
— 18 and 17: Ball-Hog or Tugboat? and Rainbow Radio
— 16 and 15: Let Your Dim Light Shine and Day For Night
— 14 and 13: Tales from the Punchbowl and Sleepy Eyed
— 12 and 11: Post and Deluxe
— 10: Yes