When discussing Polly Jean Harvey one thing inevitably, and deservedly, comes up - that she is the only artist to win the Mercury Prize twice. But there is another fact which is always overlooked - that she is also the biggest export from her home county of Dorset since the Black Death in 1348, responsible for the deaths of 4 million people in the UK. This may seem irrelevant to you but as a kid who grew up in this sleepy, and often backward-minded part of the world, it was important to be reminded that it was possible to make something of yourself despite growing up in the sticks. And home to the Bubonic plague.

Harvey is an artist with unquestionable conviction. She doesn't take any shit and presumably by now no one would dare give her any. A multi-instrumentalist with a startlingly versatile vocal range and a discerning narrative voice, she has all the tools at her disposal to make great records without the help of anyone else. Only a handful of close friends tend to reappear from album to album, with the odd guest here and there. So if she wants to do an album about national identity and conflicts in the 19th and early 20th (Let England Shake), then she'll do it. If she wants to make an album almost entirely on piano, despite barely being able to play the damn thing (White Chalk), well fuck it, why not? And if she wants to release an album of made exclusively of demos (4 Track Demos) then it's going to happen. Staying true to herself has always paid off. It's a lesson more artists should learn from.

Her early career is defined by an angsty, lo-fi-rock sound which inspired the likes of Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love at the time of the grunge and countless others since. Her second album Rid of Me packs a punch of unbridled rage that would square up to any Rage Against The Machine record. Following this period comes a brief melancholic summer in the form of Is This Desire? her most beautiful and underrated album. It's from this point on that each release changes vastly from its predecessor. As there is no Greatest Hits to speak of, presumably at Harvey's behest, we've tried to cover all the bases here. It's hard to do justice to an artist in only 15 songs so we'd strongly urge you to dig a little deeper. Given that there really isn't such a thing as a bad PJ Harvey album, only more preferential ones, we hope you'll strike gold soon enough.

Tracklisting:

  • 1. 'Dress'
  • 2. 'Sheela Na Gig'
  • 3. 'Rid of Me'
  • 4. 'Hook'
  • 5. 'Hardly Wait' (4 Track Demos)
  • 6. 'To Bring You My Love'
  • 7. 'Meet Ze Monster'
  • 8. 'Angeline'
  • 9. 'The Garden'
  • 10. 'Big Exit'
  • 11. 'Good Fortune'
  • 12. 'Shame'
  • 13. 'White Chalk'
  • 14. 'The Last Living Rose'
  • 15. 'In The Dark Places'

(secret track) 'I Can't Get No Satisfaction' (with Bjork at Brits 1994)