Electric Picnic crowd will see Polly peaking
Polly Jean Harvey has just released an album that is being hailed as her masterpiece, writes Barry Egan
You're not rid of me
I beg you my darling
Don't leave me, I'm hurting
Lick my legs, I'm on fire
Lick my legs of desire
THUS sings Polly Jean Harvey with a certain passion, I think you'll agree, on Rid Of Me. She was singing in 1993 about the agonising end of her first major relationship. There can't be too many female artists who sing with such Sylvia Plath skin-flaying pain and Emily Bronte candour about their turbulent romantic life (she allegedly had a nervous breakdown at around the release of Rid Of Me due to the pressure of making the album). But then there were never too many female artists like PJ Harvey to begin with.
In 2001, she was awarded the prestigious Mercury Prize for Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, making her the first female winner of that award. In 1995, both Rolling Stone and Spin magazines named her their 'Artist of the Year' and the New York Times rated her Is This Desire? album its 'LP of the Year'.
Extra proof, if any were needed, of PJ's fabulousness is surely that she just released a new album, Let England Shake, around the theme of the Great War.
"Smile, smile, Bobby," she sings on The Colour Of Earth "With your lovely mouth/Pack up your troubles/Let's head out to the fountain of death."
A sombre anti-war record full of images of blood-soaked battlefields and dying soldiers is perhaps just what we need at this time.
The 41-year-old Dorset anti-diva was born on October 9, 1969 and grew up on a sheep farm, where she was brought up by her quarryman father and artist mother.
I love the story that she was the only young woman in a village of 600 people. In the past she has said that as a child she often longed to be male.
That artistic side to PJ is evident on Let England Shake in its lyrical style: sketches of words, Francis Baconesque, with James Joyce and Harold Pinter thrown in. "I'm probably more influenced by film-makers and painters than I am by songwriters or poets," she has said. "With songs, I almost see the images, see the action, and then all I have to do is describe it."
"She comes from an art-school ethos," Paul McGuinness, whose Principle Management have managed Harvey since 1993, told the Observer recently. "Had she not got a record deal, she would have gone on to do fine art at St Martin's. She did get a deal, but in a way she's been at art school ever since. She's extremely independent. She makes a plan, then methodically carries it out."
"Her lyrical perfectionism is the chief reason why Let England Shake has been widely hailed as her masterpiece," wrote the Observer's Dorian Lynskey in April, "quite an achievement for someone 20 years and eight albums into her career, at a stage when most songwriters are leaning on their back catalogue."
PJ Harvey headlines Electric Picnic, which runs from September 2 to 4, with Arcade Fire, Pulp, The Chemical Brothers, Interpol and Beirut