To Bring You My Love
The "Most Compelling Woman in Rock" Delivers a Stunning New Album

In 1993, sometime shortly after she broke up the band that bore hername, PJ (Polly Jean) Harvey played a solo gig at McCabe's Guitar Shop on Los Angeles' west side. She strode on stage before the 100 or so souls attending the midnight show wearing an off-the-shoulder goldlamé dress, matching high-heeled pumps, and a Fender Stratocaster. Blowing through a brief, transfixing set of songs drawn from Rid of Me and an unexpected cover of Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," Harvey radiated poise, power, and almost insolent self-confidence.

Those qualities are also heapingly present on Harvey's new album, which comes off as a slightly more produced edition of her raw, scarifyingly over-the-top '93 opus 4-Track Demos. (U2/Nine InchNails producer Flood and musical collaborator John Parish produced the current work with Harvey.) With To Bring You My Love, the Irish (sic) performer reasserts her claim to the title of Most Compelling Woman in Rock (pace Liz Phair, Courtney Love, et al).

The record is in your face like a rabid weasel from cut number one, the title selection. Harvey has always viewed love as the final destination at the end of a trail of broken glass, and To Bring You My Love, which conjures up a match with Beelzebub himself, continues her anguished take on the subject. The musical setting is even more contorted than in the past, as Harvey's distorted, in-the-red vocal courses higher and higher over tolling guitar chords.

Perhaps fortunately for the listener, To Bring You My Love is not made up exclusively of such writhings as its title cut. To besure, the album displays Harvey at her most confrontational: The droning "I Think I'm a Mother" finds Harvey again indulging in some grotesquely manipulated vocal histrionics, while even the single Down By the Water, though blessed with neat production fillips and a more demure singing approach, also sports a profoundly disturbing edge.

But Harvey, who has dressed the album with growling keyboards and prickling string ornamentation, comes down to earth on a couple of numbers, "C'Mon Billy" and "Send His Love to Me", that play for all the world like contemporary folk songs. On these numbers, she utilizes her energetically strummed guitar as a centerpiece, and takes her prevailing theme of mad desire to its most rarified level.

There is little about Polly Jean Harvey's music that is easy. Pop accessibility always takes a back seat to bold expression in her songs, and her undeniable sexuality is cut with a knowing combativeness. Her notion of love as conflict will never be an easy pill for rock-and-roll consumers to swallow. But, for listeners who prefer songs that are challenging, rigorous, and sugar-free, PJ Harvey will remain an icon of choice long after many of today's trendy pomo demigodesses have retired to the 'burbs.

Chris Morris