PJ Harvey - White Chalk

Simplicity doesn't matter when the unadorned piano tunes combine with a beautiful ethereal voice that echoes around the record like a melancholy ghost to gorgeous effect.

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Released 24 Sep 2007 | Island | By James Lawrenson | Rating: 4
PJ Harvey - White Chalk

PJ Harvey, often cited as one of those 'feisty' female rockers (usually by patronising hacks who think women aren't rawk) returns with her eighth studio album. It sees her take a route less travelled, with the songs led by the old joanna and a much higher register than usually. Abandoning the rock 'n' rolling of 'Uh Huh Her', 'White Chalk' is as a result a much more sombre and haunting record than previous efforts and adds some lovely variation to her oeuvre.

'When Under Ether' is an echoing and chiming gentle lullaby, following the Harvey tradition of dark, dark lyrics with the sunshine topic of abortion. 'White Chalk' seems to continue the theme, with lines including "the child in me" and "there's blood on my hands". The theme of abortion seems to echo around the album like yodels round the mountaintops. The world's first abortion concept album?

Well, not all the songs are about abortion. Journalistic license. Most of the tracks see Polly lamenting lost love, lost babies, lost anything. 'The Piano' sees her repeatedly crying out "Oh God. I miss you" and sees the album reach its loudest. Some have (unfairly?) contrasted this album with Tori Amos, and the similarities can be seen in album closer 'The Mountain' which see PJ wailing like a banshee over tumbling piano chords.

Some may view the change in direction as creating a lack of impact, and at times the album does feel a little insubstantial. The innocent ease isn't really a problem, as it allows the dark soul at the heart of the record to breath. Simplicity doesn't matter when the unadorned piano tunes combine with a beautiful ethereal voice that echoes around the record like a melancholy ghost to gorgeous effect. 'White Chalk' is one of those rare albums where an artist changes direction, and succeeds.