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One of the Hardest-Rocking Records Ever
on 28 February 2004
Yes, that's right. Rid of Me has to be one of the hardest-rocking, most kick-ass, most anti-pop records I've ever heard. It is an absolute masterpiece of bile and anger, violence and hate. It's so extreme that it feels less like a rock album than a volcanic exorcism of personal demons. Rarely have I heard so much rage and power harnessed onto tape. It is truly exhilarating.
Rid of Me is PJ Harvey's second album, released just a year after her critically acclaimed 1992 debut Dry. Whereas Dry sounded naïve, youthful and almost innocent, the follow-up has a much harder edge to it. The sound is brutally raw, the lyrics are more bitter and wise, the anger is sharper and more pointed. It's a more thrillingly extreme affair all round. Steve Albini's in-your-room production is absolutely perfect for bringing out this nasty side of PJ. He's worked with Pixies and Nirvana; in an interview at the time, PJ explained that she wanted Albini to record them like a live band, so that you could feel the instruments pounding away before you with every hacking guitar riff and thunderous drum kick.
The shocking title track is a Fatal Attraction-style revenge fantasy about a scorned, obsessed lover tormenting her old flame. It starts slowly as a barely audible whisper before exploding into noise at the chorus ("Don't you wish you never never met her!") and building to an unforgettable climax of "Lick my legs I'm on fire, lick my legs I'm desire"), repeated over and over like an unholy mantra. 50Ft Queenie is a sneering, mocking cock-rock parody with a laugh-out-loud chorus of "Hey I'm the king of the world, you oughta hear my song/You come and measure me, I'm 20 inches long". The shrieking two-minute explosion of Snake tells the story of Adam and Eve from a fierce new perspective. Me Jane is a domestic spat between Tarzan and his ladylove, complete with animal whoops, manic guitar riffage and some of the most exciting drumming in recent rock history. Man-Size refers to sodomy, iron knickers and setting fire to her hair. Legs is about cutting someone's legs off. Need I continue?
Musically, the main reference points this time around seem to be punk, blues and Sixties/Seventies classic rock like Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan (whose standard Highway 61 Revisited is covered here in jaw-dropping style). PJ's screaming vocals are unforgettable, morphing from man to woman to animal; her guitar playing has a ferocious intensity matched only by Steven Vaughan's thudding five-string basslines and Rob Ellis' astonishing drumwork (he bashes those cymbals harder than any other drummer around). And in the song Missed, there is one beautiful moment of tenderness amid the fury.
Rid of Me is a crucial purchase for anyone who wants to know anything about hard rock. It may freak you out at first, but give it time and you'll grow to love its crazy heart.