PJ Harvey has always been an enigma, an artist in constant flux. Unlike many others, each of her albums is a different animal than the one that came before. Some are universally liked, others are questioned but each is unmistakably PJ.
A Woman A Man Walked By seems like an adventure for Polly, something to do just for the fun of it. Teaming up for the second time with Instrumentalist John Parish, this album moves between different styles and moods.
It is, at times, brilliant while also riding the fine line that can push an album toward becoming forgettable. However, instead of coming across as a mesh of confusion, it is undeniably confident, infused with brazen charisma. There are echoes of previous albums, influences from bluegrass and jazz with some tracks featuring a wild screaming animalistic PJ, a demon woman hell-bent on male destruction complete with canine barking.
The opening track “Black Hearted Love” is one of the best rock tracks she has produced in years with seductive lyrics and vocals reminiscent of Mazzy Star and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
“Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen” is typical PJ fare to Parish on banjo and feels influenced by Patti Smith. Others include “Leaving California” an almost ethereal track and “The Soldier” a more sombre number with lyrics like “I imagine a dream in which I’m a soldier and I’m walking on the faces of dead women”.
The title track “A Woman A Man Walked By/The Crow Knows Where All The Little Children Go” is unlike anything on the album. A wild crazed track where she growls of a man with “chicken liver balls” threatening to kick his ass while seemingly channelling a Nick Cave sensibility.
“Pig Will Not” has PJ barking like an insane dog woman repeatedly and defiantly screaming “I WILL NOT”. Like the title track, it stands out from the rest of the album but even with its frenetic tone it still exudes a light hearted and playful theme that flows from song to song.
It is hard to say how fans will receive this album. It isn’t the best work PJ has done but it is definitely worth a listen. It feels a little short though at only ten tracks and seems to go by in a flash. If you are a PJ fan you will undoubtedly pick this up no matter what but for those that haven’t heard much of her, it is also a good jumping on point. It has a good range of what is considered typical PJ while also showing off directions she is capable of heading with the influence that an instrumentalist like Parish offers.