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Source Material

PJ Harvey, Rid of Me: Source Material

by Annie Zaleski

PJ Harvey, Rid of Me: Source Material


Twenty years ago, Polly Jean Harvey and her then-band -- bassist Steve Vaughan and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Rob Ellis -- released Rid of Me. Recorded by Steve Albini, the album established Harvey as a formidable lyricist, vocalist and musician. Dry-sounding drums and simmering bass matched wits with scabrous, aggressive guitars inspired by equal parts blues, post-punk, hardcore and garage. (Sometimes, as on "50 Ft Queenie," these influences collided all at once.) Harvey thrashed, howled, crooned and wailed about intimate betrayal ("Snake") or asserted her dominance ("Me-Jane"); in her hands, romance had tinges of vengeance, and sex was often a weapon. Still, Rid of Me also had moments of harrowing beauty, such as the lovely "Man-Sized Sextet," which featured Harvey on cello and violin.

Harvey recently told SPIN that she was listening to several artists while writing the album. Each of those artists had a profound influence on her music, from Pixies' abrasive guitars and sharp-cornered dynamics, and Howlin' Wolf's lurching blues heat and love-gone-sinister storytelling, to Tom Waits' desperate vocals and macabre poetry. But Rid of Me's source material extends beyond these groups back to classic rock -- specifically, Led Zeppelin's sultry rock rumble, Jimi Hendrix's snaky distorted guitars, Bob Dylan's eloquent character studies and Heart's thundering feminist statements -- and the modern American underground, including Pussy Galore's swampy blues churn, The Jesus Lizard's razor-edged strut, The Breeders' noisy lo-fi chatter, and Throwing Muses' stark confessions and strident feminism, among others.

Although Harvey has shifted musical directions and collaborators since, Rid of Me cemented her reputation as a fiercely outspoken, uncompromising artist.