SHE LED ROCK INTO THE MESSINESS OF EMOTIONS
It’s a wonderful name, isn’t it? Polly Jean Harvey–something you’d read in a Jean Rhys novel, whose heroines Harvey would probably like: all those West Indian-born white women traveling the provinces, wearing too much rouge and sad fur collars, dreaming of a warmer place, back home, where Mama smells of sugar cane and horses and there are many bodies of water and much comfort. But she can’t go home again, not ever, since that would compromise her idea of freedom, personal choice. Polly Jean Harvey has something of the rogue about her, doesn’t she? A nice girl who doesn’t play nice, even though she might very well end up with some bloke in front of the telly and a million kids running around. Because that’s what her music is about: self-romance, certainly, and the romances she’d like to have but thinks she’s too skinny or weird-looking to attain. She’s an incurable romantic in an age where irony and soft-spokenness are the prevalent modes. From her very first album, 1992’s Dry, to her current release, Stories From the City Stories From the Sea (Island), she’s led us into the messiness inherent in having a love life without loving life itself, and she has made us rethink the very term “rock ‘n’ roll” by throwing rocks at niceness and showing us how not to roll with the punches.
Hilton Als is a staff writer at The New Yorker.
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