Retreads have never been Polly Jean Harvey’s thing. None of her albums sound alike; each offers its own beguiling charm and haunting beauty. Her discography’s lone rehash, 2004’s Uh-Huh Her, attempted to recycle the bluesy guitar dirges and wounded feminine snarl of early works Dry and Rid of Me, and it kind of sucked. We all pretended otherwise at the time, but it’s easily the weakest release in her healthy catalog. 2007’s White Chalk marked a new direction for
A Woman A Man Walked By finds
The album gets the whole “accessibility” thing over with up front with “Black Hearted Love.” It’s a solid blend of everything to come – the choruses rock and shriek while the verses float by.
White Chalk stills hovers over A Woman A Man Walked by, however. “The Soldier” examines a dream in which the narrator yearns to share his/her suffering – “Send me home damaged / Send me home disposed / Send me home damaged and wanting” goes the climax. “Passionless, Pointless” covers a failing relationship, and the sparse imagery that emerges hits hard. The intro is all about trying to cut through tensions and talking, but the line that ultimately sticks the most is “I slept facing the wall,” later changed to “you.” Breaking up the two is “Pig Will Not,” a chaotic crasher in which
A Woman A Man Walked By’s ebb and flow keeps the listener recovering from each previous track. It constantly circumvents PJ fans’ expectations by both embracing and rejecting templates established by White Chalk and Dance Hall at Louse Point. It’s self-lacerating yet giddy, fiery yet contemplative, fluctuating from moment to moment. Parish’s compositions are solid throughout, although the sparse first half can get tedious at times. Still, though, he’s clearly a great force for