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 Harvey,pj - White Chalk
Harvey,pj - White Chalk

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If theres one thing that Polly Jean Harvey is not, its conventional. The 38-year old Somerset-born singer, now in her sixteenth year of making music, doesnt need to burn bras or initiate any sort of outlandish protest to be non-conformist, though; for an artist whose reinvented herself as much as Madonna but received a fraction of the kudos for it, Harvey is quietly happy to unearth a different musical persona every few years. From her raw, punk-riddled beginnings on 1992 debut Dry, up to 2001s melodic pop-rock offering Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, theres always been a feeling that you dont know whats around the next corner with the professional weirdo. Still, even the most sceptical of fans wouldnt have expected a sparse, piano-driven album as Harveys eighth studio offering, especially considering that, as of three years ago, she didnt play piano - but thats exactly what White Chalk is. Shes also adopted a higher-pitched singing voice for the first time, a tactic which only serves to increase the intensity and unearthly nature of the songs. The Devil opens proceedings with an almost Supremes/Motown-like jangly piano coda, but dont be fooled - for the most part, White Chalk is a very pure, austere album, whose piano skeleton is fleshed out only occasionally by acoustic guitar, harp and drums (thanks to Dirty Threes Jim White). Harveys arrangements are better than ever, too, and her newly-learned instrument lends an extra dimension to these songs. Grow Grow Grom is a brilliantly creepy, atmospheric ballad which could soundtrack a night-time misadventure in an abandoned mental asylum quite adeptly; When Under Ethers documents a spaced-out hospital stay; the comparatively-upbeat Silence and poppy, warm The Piano add layers of harmonies and glittering mellotron respectively, while To Talk To Yous dark flourishes disturb and beguile in equal measures. White Chalk wont grab you immediately, but when it does grasp you in its pale, bony hands, youll find it very hard to shirk.
(Lauren Murphy www.entertainment.ie)

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