Please read Darren Scott’s selection article of PJ Harvey: Dry before reading our reviews below.
I (Darren) picked this selection and will summarize though Greg’s review was not submitted at the time of this summary.
Though I was glad I picked this album it was apparent that PJ Harvey’s Dry may have been a little too rough, alternative and slow to have really clicked with the group. The sound is very reminiscent of the early 90s alternative rock scene but perhaps doesn’t stand up to the test of time as well as contemporaries like Nirvana. Her style is not main-stream at all and even Kurt Cobain admits that Nevermind was written and produced for the masses and not his favourite album. Whereas PJ Harvey, at the time of Dry was just trying to figure herself and her style out and was writing and playing for herself.
Her style isn’t for everybody but I would highly recommend you look at her catalogue of music and give her a listen, maybe just don’t start with Dry.
What was cool about this album:
- Happy and Bleeding and Fountain were mentioned as favourites on the album.
- This album is really raw and different and in a modern age of over-produced, same-sounding crap I appreciate efforts like this.
What we didn’t find so cool:
- The rawness of the album and her attempt to push boundaries comes off a little weird in some tracks.
- It’s a bit of a slow and repetitive collection of songs and you can tell she hadn’t quite found her style yet.
We have also implemented a rating scale that you will see below in the reviews. All ratings are out of 5.
Our Reviews Average:
Overall opinion: 3
Would we recommend?: 2.5
Influenced our tastes: 2
Worth the hype? 3
Read our full individual reviews below.
Don’t agree with us? Have a comment or suggestions? We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment or contact us.
Our Full Reviews
Darren Scott’s Review
As mentioned in my pick article, I have been meaning to listen to PJ Harvey but just hadn’t got around to it. As we were running light in picking the amazing women of music, I felt this was the perfect time. As PJ has a vast catalogue of music it was hard to pick an album so I settled on her first album, Dry. I was close to picking her next album Rid of Me as I knew Steve Albini produced it and I love his raw production style. Anyway, on with the review.
I always like going back to the early 90s alternative rock scene as I was, and still am, a big fan of the bands of that era like Nirvana, Jane’s Addiction, Smashing Pumpkins, The Pixies, etc. I could definitely feel the sound of the era in this album and see why contemporaries like Kurt Cobain admired PJ Harvey’s first album. That being said, this album is definitely not a commercial album that would be liked by most music fans.
I liked it, though I found it was a bit too slow for my taste. Funny I say that as I actually found the track Fountain my favourite and it is a very slow brooding song. It reminded me of Nirvana’s Something in the Way. I also liked the popular tracks on this album Dress and Sheela-Na-Gig. I was impressed that PJ is a master musician and plays multiple instruments and wrote as well. For being so young she was very accomplished. That is not to say that this first album doesn’t show signs of being a little rough around the edges. I can always tell if I really love an album if I immediately have the urge to buy it. I can’t say I felt that urge here but I did feel like listening to more.
Listening to a best of compilation was very fun and I was drawn to her hits like Down by the Water, Good Fortune and 50ft Queenie. I really quickly grew to like her music and many of her albums. But for the sake of this review of Dry I have to rate this album only. As mentioned, I found it a bit slow for my tastes and some of the songs were just a bit too out there for me. I did see where she was going and there was more than enough to get me to explore more of here albums. Overall, I am very glad that I picked her(I still feel bad about the Beta Band pick) and I would highly recommend you explore her music, though you might want to start with a different album.
Overall opinion: 3.5
Would I recommend?: 3.5
Influenced my tastes: 3
Worth the hype? 3.5
I’ve heard snippets of PJ Harvey all throughout the years, but I have to admit I’ve never given any of her albums a full listen before, let alone the first one. I remember her most for singing Down by the Water, which got a lot of play around my parts back in the day. Still, taking a quick look at the Billboard Top 100 for that year, the fact that Baby Got Back , Jump (Kriss Kross), and Humpin’ Around are the songs that got me reminiscing should tell you where my head was back then.
The only song I recognized off this album was Sheela Na Gig, and I do remember it on the radio way back. PJ (Harv?) has a nice lilting cadence to her singing that really appeals to me. It takes me to the same place the Letters to Cleo, Veruca Salt, and Juliana Hatfield do, with a little splash of Liz Phair’s freaky side. (Joydrop is on the list too, if you’re Canadian and might recognize them!)
I went through quite a phase of Female Alt, and it surprises me now that she didn’t make it onto my playlist more. Limited exposure in North America? I’m just oblivious sometimes? Probably a bit of both, but that’s exactly why I’m in the Sonic Collective! My buds can enlighten me on.
That being said, O Stella was pretty messed up. I’m still trying to decide if I like the song or not. It doesn’t feel overproduced, especially on the backing vocals, but it feels like it was thrown together at a jam session. Not that the whole album doesn’t feel a little thrown together. It’s hard to tell if this is on purpose or not, but Victory has a beautiful baseline intertwining beautifully with the guitar work that makes me think it’s more craft than crap.
I could say that Oh My Lover was my favourite song, but Fountain has this manic-depressive cadence, a nervous energy that really pulls me away from the loud, angst-filled thrashing of Lover and makes me want to go put on some black eyeshadow and watch the Crow, or at least listen to the soundtrack.
Overall, I enjoyed the album, but I think I would have enjoyed it more 10 years ago, cycled between the artists mentioned above, with maybe some Hole and L7 to round things out. I say give it a listen, because you’ll have fun trying to classify her and line her up with your favourite artists too.
Overall opinion: 3
Would I recommend: 4
Influenced my tastes: 2
Worth the hype: 3
Scott Coates’s Review
PJ Harvey – the name was familiar, but I couldn’t name a song. I was certain I must know something by ‘her’, or was it a ‘band’ called PJ Harvey? Not sure; still not sure. But it turned out I’d never heard a single track by this entity in music. Dry was submitted as December’s pick and I dipped in intermittently throughout the month.
I kept listening to this album not really remembering it, but not being driven to listen again. Time and time again I thought I must have been distracted while listening, hence my lack of desire to partake again, but after some time and many listens, realized it just wasn’t jiving with me.
While trying to figure out why I couldn’t really get into this album, the sound, or even a song, I kept thinking of a girl in high school who was ‘alternative’, cute, we knew each other a bit, I was intrigued, but was never enough like her to ever really make a connection. I think the same principle applies with PJ Harvey and Dry. It’s that interesting, semi-unknown, kind-of-hot-girl, that only a select few ever really get close enough to, to understand, like and appreciate. I’m just not the guy.
Overall this album sounds like a college demo throughout and never much more. It’s just too raw and ‘out there’. I can’t imagine when or why I’d put it on. There’s not a time I’ll be needing more of this. It really is a good time capsule of the outer rings of the alternative time and community of the early nineties and a very select group, but one I’m not a part of, nor can I identify with.
Victory almost gets me interested, Happy and Bleeding starts to provide some intrigue but then it dies, Hair is almost there, but then the lyrics and rhythms don’t quite elevate me enough. There just isn’t one track on this album I’d put on a playlist.
I try to be very optimistic, open, and wanting to like all selections within The Sonic Collective, but I’m afraid PJ Harvey’s Dry leaves me just that – dry – without any pleasure and no desire to explore her catalogue further.
Overall opinion: 2
Would I recommend?: 2
Influenced my tastes: 1
Worth the hype?: 2
Alain Dupuis’ Review
“What the heck is a PJ Harvey?” I asked myself out loud, as I read Darren’s pick for the first time. Obviously I was unfamiliar with her music until this month’s review. I dug in eagerly, and… well, frankly after a number of repeat plays, I’m still not quite sure what to make of Dry.
PJ has a really unique voice. The vocal delivery is on point, dynamic and precise – but with a bit of raw edginess. I couldn’t help but find myself drawing comparisons to Janice Joplin, for better or worse.
I really liked the song Happy and Bleeding. Easily my favorite song on the album because of it’s relative complexity compared to other songs on the album. Despite being a bit of a slow-starter, it builds up in dynamic range and adds layers of instruments and vocals as it carries on.
Plants and Rags features a chaotic array of string instruments, which I thought was a neat touch. Usually when artists add strings to songs, it tends to give them a bit of serious or solemn feel (think Glycerine, by Bush). In this case, it made the song weird and interesting
I didn’t like:
A lot of the songs seemed quite repetitive. Despite most tracks on the album being relatively short in length, some of them just seemed to drone on and on. I can’t really recall any one song that stuck in my head after listening
I didn’t feel that any of the tracks had a hook or anything to reward the listener. Not necessarily a requisite depending on your audience, but it didn’t win any points from me.
I liked Dry for what it is – An early 90s grunge-ish folksy album featuring untested talent. Would it make it onto my permanent play list? Nah. I don’t think so. It just didn’t do enough to reward me as a listener and keep me engaged enough to come back for more.
Overall opinion: 2.5
Would I recommend?: 1
Influenced my tastes: 1
Worth the hype? 3
Greg Jorgensen’s Review
The only thing I knew about PJ Harvey was that she was a musician; oft-talked about and frequently referenced, but no one that I had any familiarity with whatsoever. I was excited to get into it and enjoyed most of it, but sadly, don’t think I’ll be going back to PJ Harvey anytime soon.
This strikes me as very much what I call a “snapshot record” – that is, a very concise picture of a certain time in musical history. In this case, it’s the early 1990s, which is made clear by the fuzzy guitars, the edgy and concise lyrics with a hard-edged voice belting them out, sometimes off-key but never weak or unsure of itself. Snapshot records aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but have trouble retaining legitimacy outside of the narrowly-defined timeframe in which they originated.
There were songs on here – even parts of songs – that I really, really liked. Oh My Lover had me on the first note, although it never really emerged as the power anthem I wanted it to, and Dress rocked right along at a great clip that I loved. Most of the other songs were good…just fine…not great, not really awful. The kind of music one might expect to hear on a grungy 90s action movie like The Crow. Perfect to put on at a house party as great background music. (my snapshot of the early 90s included a lot of house parties…perhaps then no surprise that this comparison came up for Dry).
All of this, however, is not taking into consideration Plants and Rags, which may be the most aurally abusive song I’ve ever heard. I mean Jesus, it’s like someone picked two songs at random and then forced them to mate. Garbage.
But trying to pick one standout moment is really hard for me. As a whole, it’s a pretty decent album that strikes me as something perfect to have in the background and ignore (reminding me of this great scene in the amazing High Fidelity).
Overall opinion: 3
Would I recommend?: 3
Influenced my tastes: 0
Worth the hype?: 3