There is something to be said for stripping things down.
Plato believed that essential attributes make an entity what it fundamentally is. Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers believed that every song they composed as The Chic Organisation had to have a DHM (Deep Hidden Meaning) without which no song could endure. And if it’s good enough for both Plato and Chic…
Both were talking about the central core without which any being or endeavour was insubstantial, unreal, worthless. Plato and Aristotle tried to define the fundamental Forms, the eternal and unchanging qualities from which earthly beings could be constructed. Chic worked hard to incorporate Deep Hidden Meanings in every song and then, in order to further investigate the elements of which great music consisted, they took the breakdown from the stage onto vinyl and out into the clubs of New York, deliberately stripping down tracks for their listeners, then reconstructing them just to show what Forms they were made of.
We all feel the fundamental truth at the core of these ideas of fundamental truth. We either know or, through conditioning, are made to feel, that there is an elemental being made of simple, pure components, burning strong at the heart of our particular stew of physical, emotional and psychological characteristics. Somewhere, we assert, I can find the real me, the fundamental me. If only I could get far enough away from the rest of you. If only I could get even closer to the rest of you. If only it were quieter. If only it were louder.
Since the Enlightenment, when God fell from the heavens and landed badly, we’ve been working towards a conception of a human spirit that we are certain, bristling as we tend to with self-impressed confidence, can burn just as brightly as He once did. We have become more important to ourselves and as this has happened we have sought, generation after generation, to know ourselves better, to strip away the meaningless garb we hide ourselves beneath and find the true, essential us, the us that we believe must be the best us.
It took more than 300 years but, in 1978 we seemed, as a species, to be getting very close.
Firstly, Chic, those philosophers of the essential, released ‘C’est Chic’ which contained both ‘Le Freak’ and ‘I Want Your Love’. It doesn’t get all that much better than that.
Secondly, Elvis Costello released ‘This Year’s Model’, which I love and listen to lots and like better than ‘Imperial Bedroom’ which I have heard once.
I also like PJ Harvey’s second album, ‘Rid Of Me’ more than I like her last album, ‘Let England Shake’. ‘Rid Of Me’ always seemed to me to be one of the closest approximations we have of an artist’s true heart. It’s raw, sometimes literally. It’s direct, both in content, construction and sound. Its intent, in part, is also to say, ‘this is me, and this is how that feels’. I think it’s one of the most important records, if we can consider any records important, of the last 30 years. If we can’t, then i’ll settle for it being one of the most telling.
‘Let England Shake’ is a work of art. It’s impossible not to admire the deft skill and sheer brute creativity that went into it. It should, as an aside, have been soundtracking the last 12 months as we commemorated the 100-year anniversary of the Great War. In hindsight it seems surprising to me that it didn’t. I must write some more ‘Disappointed of Devon’ letters…
It’s a great, great record and one of the records I would be happy to put forward as evidence that rock music can be as mighty an expression of what it is to be human as any of high culture. But, it’s an artist creating a piece of art for us to stand and look at. ‘Rid Of Me’ is an artist creating herself. I love them both, but if ‘Let England Shake’ is PJ Harvey’s finest expression, then ‘Rid Of Me’ is PJ Harvey’s essence.
Graham listened: Having not been about for ‘Let England Shake’ in Round 2, I can’t comment on any comparison. But after tonight I suppose I can best summarize by saying, “The buggers have finally worn me down, can I borrow some PJ Harvey please?”
Tom listened: Having listened to Rid of Me on a mate’s crappy car stereo not long after it was released (and never again), I was convinced it was an album I did not care for. Too abrasive and harsh for my tastes, I was much more drawn to PJ Harvey’s parched and spindly third album ‘To Bring You My Love’, which I owned on cassette and enjoyed immensely…until we no longer listened to cassettes any more (when did that happen?).
Well…for the first half of the record I sat there all smug and relieved that memory had not played tricks on me and that the album was almost exactly as I recalled. Really raw and uncompromising – just the sort of thing Rob loves but a bit too much for me. However, flip the record over and a very different beast is revealed – at least that was how it seemed to me. By the end of the listen, I was more or less converted and thought that I could probably even learn to love the more raucous songs on the album over time…in fact, I would probably agree with Rob that this album is probably much closer to the soul of the person that is PJ Harvey than any of her other albums.