One thing Robert Cray and PJ Harvey can definitely agree on is that relationships are a bitch. Both albums are full of songs about love gone wrong, and they get sad and they get ugly. Cray sits silently in his room listening to his neighbours break up “because she was just another notch on my guitar” on “Right Next Door (Because of Me)”. And Harvey howls “You salty dog, you filthy liar/My heart it aches, I’m in the fire” on “Snake”, which appears to be a raging tribute to hate fucking.
The similarities pretty much end there. Cray’s album is pretty and too smooth for words, famous at the time for bringing blues to the masses. His voice is sweet and expressive and his guitar is amazing. While I was too busy listening to Springsteen, Paul Simon and Van Halen at the time to even notice it, I now imagine Strong Persuader was the soundtrack to a lot of dinner parties and spousal dates back in 1986.
Harvey’s Rid of Me, on the other hand, refuses to be the soundtrack to anything but her own meltdown. She was going through hell and you are bloody well going to sit there and listen to it. Christ Almighty! I thought Weezer’s Pinkerton was aggressive, but it’s applesauce compared to the hell that P.J. Harvey has wrought. She ties you up and rips your head off on the title track and threatens to kill you at the end of “Legs”. And as for “Rub it till it Bleeds”, well, it’s exactly what it sounds like.
A note on the production of Rid of Me – it’s awesome. Steve Albini was behind it. He’d previously worked with the Pixies and would go on to produce Nirvana’s In Utero after Cobain heard Rid of Me. According to Harvey, she’s never seen anyone set up a studio the way he did, with mics all over the place, so you could feel the walls shake and the drum kit rattle. The impact is potent – you feel like you’re in the room with the band, probably lying on the floor with a cheap bottle of scotch.
Rid of Me also has a gonzo cover version of Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”; and that awesome cover photo of Harvey, taken in a pitch black bathroom apparently, with the camera flash lighting her up at precisely the right hair-flinging instant. What more do you want really?
WINNER: PJ Harvey, Rid of Me (1 point)
Next week’s battle – #41: R.E.M., Document (1987) vs. Guns n’ Roses, Use Your Illusion I & II (1991)