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Album Review
white chalk

white chalk
by P J Harvey


Review Date
2 March 2008
Reviewed by

Polly Jean Harvey's eighth studio album, White Chalk is a dark and heartbreaking offering that is a beautiful, emotional, subdued and genius work. Mixed by super-producer, Flood, PJ writes of her deepest fears on White Chalk...

I must admit I haven't kept up with PJ's career since 2000's Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea which was on my car stereo on repeat for most of that year. White Chalk is a very different album, PJ's mood was slightly perky back then and showed in the positive lyrics, unfortunately things seems to be going badly for PJ...this is one sad album!

Opener The Devil has an eerie starkness with PJ's falsetto and clunky piano and percussion building up to a wonderfully, powerful climatic chorus that rises and falls then gently fades away with " What formerly had cheered me now seems insignificant" this line definitely sets the tone that is to come...

Dear Darkness demonstrates PJ's amazing vocal range, while Grow Grow Grow is the standout on White Chalk for me, it looks straight into PJ's unsettled soul, it is a lonely, haunting track that is magical and beautiful with it's trilling piano and dark atmosphere, asking her mother 'how to catch someone's fancy'.

When Under Either is the first single off the album, it seems a very unlikely radio-friendly track, but the repetitive piano melody and shortness of the song may have something to do with it's appeal, this song was #32 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Best Songs of 2007.

Title track White Chalk takes PJ back to her home in Dorset, England, " White chalk hills are all I've known" she echoes. Another tearjerker, she sings of an unborn child and reminisces about her past. Heartbreaking and lonely to the core.

Broken Harp starts with PJ singing unaccompanied then introducing a lone guitar being plucked. A more upbeat lyrical style, but with terribly depressing lyrics, laying herself on a slate for those who care to listen.

The Piano. A piano acting as the only thing that is real? While a mother tries to leave a 'daddy rattling his keys" An imagined family? Either way, a beautiful song and another standout. Love the chorus "Oh god, I miss you" Scary, but great.

Before Departure. I found this song quite disturbing, don't get me wrong, this is an amazing album, but frankly I would have been really worried about PJ if I were her family after hearing this, it's so sad, it's awful. Don't reach for this album at a bad time in your life! " Farewell my friends, Farewell my dear ones, Farewell this world, Forgive my weakness" Enough said.

Final track, The Mountain is another stunner, with trilling guitar and buckets of dark atmosphere, " The first tree will not blossom, The second will not grow, The third is almost fallen, since you betrayed me so" The second part of the song sees PJ channeling Kate Bush with haunting wailing and then just cuts off with a stark, unemotional ending. Brilliant. 8/10

Out now on Universal.