When physical media ruled the earth you could literally listen to an Album so much that it began to self destruct. Scratched and cracked CDs or unspooled, torn apart cassettes were a badge of honor in ones’ collection, proof that music was as vital as the very air we breathe. Broken Records examines these Albums and why they meant so much to us.
I was first introduced to PJ Harvey in 1995 through The Basketball Diaries, which was an adaptation of Jim Carroll’s autobiography starring Leonardo DiCaprio. I was 12 years old. I remember hearing the clip of “Down by the Water” in the film like it was yesterday. The sound of (what I later learned was) a heavy organ was something I hadn’t heard before. PJ’s voice was unique and distinctive. The song was about a woman drowning her daughter which I couldn’t help but find fascinating.
I immediately needed to know who was singing the song. Luckily, I happened to catch the video on MTV late one night and fell in love with this mysterious dark haired woman. The song was stuck in my head for days “little fish, big fish swimming in the water; come back here, man, gimme my daughter.” Unfortunately, I had forgotten the name of the singer and since Google and Youtube hadn’t been invented yet, I did what we all do when we hear as song in a movie that we like… I bought the soundtrack. Unfortunately, I didn’t love the CD (with the exception of “People Who Died”) but I was content with being able to play “Down by the Water” over and over again.
Later that year I happened to catch clips of The Glastonbury Festival on TV. I tuned in for Veruca Salt and Elastica but happened to catch PJ Harvey (note: there were tons of amazing performances that year, this is just what I happened to remember). PJ wore a pink jumpsuit, with a ton of blue eye shadow and red lipstick. I remember her guitarist playing his acoustic guitar with a knife which I thought was just about the coolest thing that had ever happened.
I later bought To Bring You My Love. This wasn’t my favorite album by PJ Harvey (I invested in much more of her discography soon after), but I felt compelled to write about the albums’ 20th anniversary because this introduced me to her and for that I am grateful. I still think the same thing as I did 20 years ago: she’s fucking cool. My favorite songs on the album include “Telco”, “Down By The Water” and “Send His Love To Me.”
I didn’t realize how amazing Ms. Harvey was until I heard the album Rid of Me. Actually, it took me several listens to this album to fully digest what I was hearing. Rid of me was less electronic sounding. It was raw, heavy, and intense. The arrangement to every song (especially the title track) felt like it was made to feel as if she was shoving her lyrics down your throat. It was a punch in the face and I loved it. The lyrics and vocals seemed as if they were written by an angry woman that didn’t care about sounding pretty.
Another PJ Harvey Album worth mentioning: Is This Desire? which was released in 1998. I accidentally stumbled on this album shortly after it was released. Is This Desire? is nothing like PJ’s other albums and while I’m sure many people feel differently, I think this is her strongest full album. In fact, this is probably the only PJ Harvey album I’ve been able to listen to start to finish on any given day. It doesn’t have feminist impact Rid of Me had and it’s more solid than To Bring You My Love. It is atmospheric and moody. I spent many evenings laying in bed in my parents’ house, lights out and candles lit, this album on repeat, just absorbing every beat, every chord and every lyric.
PJ Harvey has released albums since Is This Desire? and while I’ve enjoyed a few songs from them, I haven’t been moved by any of them since then. Maybe that is just because as an adult, I don’t find myself lying in bed with the lights out listening to an album on repeat anymore. Maybe I should.