P J Harvey
B-Sides (Island/CD only)
from New Musical Express, 9/12/95

DIFFICULT TO credit now, but before Polly Harvey started slinking about in a pink catsuit like a particularly gymnastic stick of seaside rock, she used to play the guitar a bit. Now she locks it away, and returns to it seldom. Except ...

Someone may well be playing a rather sly joke here. Consider; as the perfect relaxation after a hard day at the coffee table, a poor unfortunate decides on the heady gotherama of 'To Bring You My Love'. But no! Calamity! Their fingers stray by mistake to this new 'bonus' CD of B-sides soon destined for independnet release! And do they get intense crooning? They do not. They get a grievous clang of guitar, and PJ requesting that famed method actor and star of 'The Deer Hunter' Robert De Niro should, ahem, "SIT AWN MAH FAYCE!". Horreur!

That unfortunate has now successfully entered a West Country 'Twightlight Zone', the grim room where Polly Harvey, surrounded by broken guitars and a wheezing harmonium thrashes her songs into shape. There is, you may conclude, a mad woman in the attic.

'B-Sides', you see, takes us from where the well-oppressive '4-Track Demos' album deposited us in 1993. Stripped down with only the barest clatter of percussion, we basically spy on her as she thrashes wildly alone. And its not all great.

Because what distinguishes these songs is that the velvety grandeur that swamped the ambience opf the album is missing. It's a pairing down that doesn't quite work; with '4-Track Demos' we were accustomed to the sheer ugliness of the original album as recorded by the dark lord Steve Albini. Here we are less so, and it makes PJ's more fanciful ideas sound a bit embarrasing. Case in point? 'Daddy' sounds a little on the Tom Waits meets Miranda Sex Garden side. Not great.

THe salvation, of course, proves to be the guitar - the clang and wail of 'Reeling', and the grunt of 'Maniac' sound basic, primal and sver so slightly crazed. So the record company joke only partly works, the collection is marked 'with caution' and reluctantly Polly locks away her guitar until she next returns.

Apparently, if you're going to 'cross over' you just can't play that on stage anymore...

(6 out of 10)

John Robinson