John Parish & P.J. Harvey
Dance Hall At Louse Point
from Melody Maker
review by Simon Price
Tokyo. Modena. Bristol. Stockholm. Washington DC. Each song on DHALP wears a different place name as a parenthetic subtitle. But don't be fooled, this is no global travelogue. JP and PJH have consciously set out to create the most American-sounding record ever made, and damn near succeeded.
Once again the closest parallel is to picture PJ as a female Nick Cave. As with almost every Cave album, DHALP consists of a dozen American-Gothic tales of doomed love in the Bible-belt. And, as with Cave, many will get off on the imagery alone(tumbleweed and tornadoes, blood and dust).This is also no coincidence:we're meant to.
Imagery is central to Polly. In her small-scale, low- budget way, she's been as agile a pop-chameleon as Bowie and Madonna ever were. Lately I've been rediscovering Rid Of Me, recalling her brilliant transformation from archetypal, vaguely alternative, bedsit Pot Noodle eater in washed out charcoal leggings and Docs into 50ft (drag) Queenie, a lipsticked, leopard-skinned, ironic "femme".
John Parish, incidentally, is a musician who first worked with Polly in her Automatic Dlamini days, slummed it with a succesion of Bristol indie losers (Brilliant Corners, The Chesterfields) before hooking up with Harvey again in the TBYML band. This is the first time Polly's written words for someone else's music, and, out of musicianly ettiquette, it hasn't been credited as the new PJ Harvey album (which for all we know or care, it basically is).
For the most part Parish has done a decent if predictably Ry Cooder-ish job:all brushes and snares, reverb and bottleneck. "Un Cercle Autour Du Soleil" is Fleetwood Mac's Albatross in negative. "Heela" shares the same unstoppable impetus as Bjoerk's "Army of Me". "Urn with dead flowers in a drained pool" is the best title Richey(Edwards, Manic Street Preachers - buy the "Holy Bible" folks - fantastic album - my words there.) never wrote. "That was my Veil" is a bloodthirsty song of sexual jealousy (and "Taut" is PJ's take on the great Phil Spector/Joe Meek death single : in a tracheotomy whisper she describes losing a lover in a car crash ("He said even the son of God had to die, my darling...").
Occasionally the duo lets go, instruments clank and grind like the gears of a rusty pick-up truck and Polly starts screaming. It's meant to be unnerving. Trouble is, it's actually funny. When Kristen Hersh does this, we're listening to what she cannot keep silent. Too often, when Polly does it, we're listening to a demented wino in the street. The highlight, however, isn't a Harvey/Parish work at all but Leiber & Stoller's "Is That All There Is ?" originally recorded by Peggy Lee.
A treasure unearthed, even if PJ's homely Pam Ayres accent keeps breaking the spell.
All in all, an uneasy blend of "Oo-arr" and "Yee-ha !"