4-Track Demos is an essential part of the PJ Harvey story. As the title suggests, it's a collection of homemade solo demos made on four-track recording equipment. It consists of eight tracks from her classic 1993 album Rid of Me and six excellent new songs. Rid of Me was engineered by notorious noise auteur Steve Albini, and some critics felt that Albini's extreme production techniques buried some of Harvey's vocal range and sonic ideas under a mudslide of overamped guitar racket. 4-Track Demos leaves these great songs in their original state to preserve the pure, raw, intimate atmosphere of the recording. Rather than the dynamic rhythms of the three-piece band, Harvey does everything independently here: she plays guitar, drums, keyboards, and sings both lead vocals and multi-tracked backing. This gives an added force and clarity to her powerful voice and witty, erotic, disturbing lyrics. After hearing her chilling howls on Snake and Hook, you'll either fall in love for life or reach for the new Dido CD.
The other six tracks are outtakes that didn't make the final cut of Rid of Me or were deemed somehow incompatible with the album, but make no mistake - these songs are as good as if not better than the material on that album. The best is probably a devastating, hypnotic ballad called Hardly Wait, which ranks among Harvey's greatest ever musical achievements. There's also the irresistibly wacky Reeling, which opens with one of rock's all-time killer couplets ("I wanna bathe in milk, eat grapes/Robert DeNiro, sit on my face"), and the lazy, porch-rocking blues drawl of the closing track Goodnight. All in all, 4-Track Demos is much more than a curio for hardcore, die-hard collectors of PJ Harvey's unique output; it's vital listening in its own right.