PJ Harvey

Kerry Meech 24/09/2007

Hailed by many as a return to top form, White Chalk sees Polly Jean experimenting with her “church voice” and new found respect for the piano. The result is a beautifully crafted record which manages to reaffirm Polly's immense musical capabilities, much like Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea. Gone are the heavily distorted guitars and driving bass which characterised so many of her earlier live performances - instead we are now treated to auto-harp renditions of “Down By The Water” (one of the many highlights of the evening), and stripped down versions of “Horses” and “The Whores Hustle, and the Hustlers Whore.” Draped in black Victorian dress and killer stilettos, Polly makes for an intriguing figure: part mourning widower, part sexy Victorian seamstress and every bit the enigma.

Classic Harvey tracks, “Man Size“, “Rid Of Me”, and of course, “Dress” remain a stark reminder of just how far Polly has ventured since her emergence in the early 90s. It's undoubtedly an impressive back catalogue, yet White Chalk tracks like “When Under Ether” and “Grow Grow Grow” manage to effortlessly slip alongside her better known tracks. But, after missing the exceptionally high notes of “The Devil”, and “The Mountain”, she admits defeat during a particularly tricky rendition of “Nina in Ecstasy”: “For fucks sake! I'm going to be spending the next 5 days practising that one, only bread and water for me until its perfect!”

All jokes aside, this is the intimate sound of an artist challenging herself and resisting stagnation. It's a brave move and one which paid off handsomely, receiving a well deserved standing ovation from her fellow West Country folk. Finally, Polly graces the stage one more time with a moving rendition of Uh Huh Her's “Desperate Kingdom Of Love”. Perfect.