The darker side of PJ Harvey | Virgin Media
The darker side of PJ Harvey

The darker side of PJ Harveyby JR Moores

11/04/2016

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She’s the only artist to have won the Mercury Music Prize twice, was given an MBE in 2013, has made an Outstanding Contribution To Music according to the NME Awards and edited what the Daily Mail deemed the “worst ever” edition of Radio 4’s Today programme.

So, it’s safe to say Polly Jean Harvey is a national institution. Even so, she has many brilliant tracks hidden away on non-album releases that will be familiar to only her hardcore fans. As she gets ready to release her ninth solo album, The Hope Six Demolition Project (out on Friday, 15 April), here are 10 such curios from The Peej’s esteemed back-catalogue.

Reeling (B-side to 50ft Queenie (1993))

A solo take of Reeling was included on PJ’s 4-Track Demos compilation but there’s also a lesser-known full-band version on the B-side to 1993’s 50ft Queenie single. Here, Rob Ellis’s drums clatter feverishly around the speakers to PJ’s thick blankets of guitar squall. Reeling is also notable for boasting some of PJ’s best opening lines, ever: “I wanna bathe in milk/Eat grapes!/Robert De Niro…” Sing along, folks.

Daddy (B-side to Man-Size (1993))

The Man-Size single had two great Peej B-sides, the first was a cover of Wang Dang Doodle, an old blues number written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf. Yelping and wailing like she was a woman possessed, Harvey confidently made that song her own. She coupled it with the bizarre ode that is Daddy, which basically sounds like Kate Bush covering a long-lost cabaret song backed by an oompah band at an abandoned funfair.

Lying In The Sun (B-side to Down By The Water (1995))

The title Lying In The Sun might bring to mind the kind of summery feel-good single that bands such as Weezer like to release. In actual fact, PJ’s track sounds so little like Rivers Cuomo’s nerd-rock four-piece that it begins with a minute and a half of eerie, uncompromising guitar feedback, more in the vein of Sonic Youth.

Then PJ starts chugging some very slow chords and singing a sexually-tinged tribute to her black-haired lover. He probably doesn’t look just like Buddy Holly.

My Naked Cousin (from The Crow: City Of Angels soundtrack (1996))

Before we had franchises like The Matrix, Pirates Of The Caribbean and all those ones where Iron Man teams up with Deadpool to defeat The Fantastic Four who’ve been tricked by a time-travelling Ian McKellen (or something), we had The Crow films. They were about a frowning goth bloke who comes back to life to avenge his own murder and had soundtracks with lots of alt-rock, industrial and nu-metal songs.

For the second instalment, PJ provided a new recording of this bawdy non-album rocker she’d been knocking around since circa 1993. It’s infectious, ingenious and possibly slightly dodgy.

Nina In Ecstasy (B-side to The Wind (1998))

This song was not an homage to the flamboyant German popstar Nina Hagen, who had an album called In Ekstasy, but was apparently inspired by watching an adult movie in a hotel bedroom. With Harvey singing in a higher register than usual, really stretching herself to hit those top notes, and accompanied by nothing but the bare sound of an organ, it’s a beautiful little lullaby, despite its typically dark lyrics (“Once Nina/Was a young girl/Now she’s dead...”).

66 Promises (B-side to Good Fortune (2000))

It was the early noughties. Jay-Z had 99 problems. So Solid Crew had 21 seconds (to go). And PJ Harvey had 66 promises. The latter wasn’t a hit, however, because it was tucked away as a B-side to the lead single from the album that would bag Harvey her first Mercury Music Prize, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea.

It’s a ragged rock track about the disintegration of a relationship with some dramatic quiet-LOUD-quiet dynamics. The single’s other B-sides are worth a gander as well. Memphis is a passionate eulogy to the late Jeff Buckley, while 30 couldn’t be any more moody if it stormed to its bedroom and painted the walls all black.

97° (B-side to Shame (2004))

...Harvey didn’t just have 66 Promises, she also had 97 degrees. Here, her sorrowful lyrics (“look what you’ve done, you’ve ruined everything”) are juxtaposed with the warm, fuzzy sound of her guitar. It’s got the kind of stoner shuffle that suggests the work she’d just completed on Josh Homme’s Desert Sessions side-project had rubbed off on her.

The Falling (B-side to The Letter (2004))

The Falling has many of the hallmarks of a great Harvey B-side: it’s got that homemade demo feel, a murky guitar sound, hoarse vocals and jilted lyrics about how “I see you kissing other people’s arms”. As a bonus feature, this one also comes with an uncharacteristic and atmospheric synthesizer sound that lurks around in the background as if Harvey was being haunted by The Cure.

Liverpool Tide (B-side to The Devil (2008))

On 2007’s White Chalk, Harvey withdrew from the raw rock sound that had defined her previous album Uh Huh Her to produce a hushed collection of piano-based works. Instead of including further ivory-centric compositions for its singles’ B-sides, Harvey dug into her archive.

The tracks she unearthed included Wait and Heaven from way back in 1988 and this scuzzy ballad, recorded 10 years later. It’s another mournful solo rocker, complete with the imagery of “salty tears”, “shipwrecks” and “snow”.

The Big Guns Call Me Back Again (B-side to The Words That Maketh Murder (2011))

2011’s Let England Shake was the album that got Harvey her second Mercury award. Its concept was inspired by the history of armed conflict, from older events like World War One’s Gallipoli Campaign to modern violence in Iraq and Afghanistan. This outtake could have slotted so suitably into that record’s tracklisting that you wonder why it was ever left off. It’s a haunting gothic folk number, reeking of gunpowder and shivering with shellshock.

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