PJ Harvey returns with the first taste of her first solo album for seven years – a soothing and sinister ballad about birds… and Elvis.
Like most great artists, Polly Harvey never gives her audience what they expect next. Those changes have not always been to my taste – how could they be, with such wild stylistic variations? – but they always engage and fascinate.
And with her newest song – intriguingly titled A Child’s Question, August – she has gone far beyond engagement and fascination to go straight to the heart with a mood, and lyrics, that are simultaneously soothing and sinister.
It’s a hypnotic, droning affair, her slowly strummed electric guitar is accompanied by John Parish’s equally minimalist backing: shimmering synth, gentle drums and almost submerged keyboards; all the better to focus attention on her voice.
I was never fully sold on the ‘little girl’ vocals she unveiled on her White Chalk album but its fragility draws us in to this song’s opening verse – a lyric steeped in West Country dialect – reverting to her more full-blooded singing voice on the chorus, accompanied by her close friend, the actor Ben Whishaw.
As for the lyrics, they’re a bit Wicker Man, filled with solace and grief… and birds (starlings, swifts and rooks telling “stories across the corn”). And a chorus about Elvis: “Help me dunnick, drush and dove, “Love Me Tender,” tender love.” What more could you ask?!
I’ve been playing it on repeat. It’s hypnotic and beautiful.