PJ Harvey- Sex, religion, and Second Comings

from the may issue of Spin, 1998;rank 14; by Sarah Vowell

One of the most provocative lines PJ Harvey ever sang is the sexy- creepy "Jesus come closer" on "To Bring You My Love." So it's quite perfect that indie film director Hal Hartley cast the British singer as a modern-day Mary Magdalene in his Second Coming send-up, The Book of Life. Magdalene, the harlot turns Jesus groupie, embodies both temptation and devotion; Harvey, more than any musician of her generation, superimposes the spiritual onto the physical with incredibly fleshy force. And in the movie, which is set for release next winter, the sinner/Son of God relationship has distinctly romantic charge.

"It's quite apparent that they have a deep-rooted relationship," Harvey says of her first film role. "It all has to do with the way they look at each other. Everything begins when they land at JFK Airport in New York on December 31, 1999. 'Magdalene' is Jesus' companion-cum-body-guard, dressed in black like a rock chick. She takes care of him because his head is very occupies-like making sure he crosses the road without getting run over."

As curious as Eve, as slinky as Salome, as maternal as Mary, and as scary as a plague of locusts, Harvey could take on a variety of biblical roles. Not only does her voice have many mansions, the dramaturgy of her songs allows her to keep changing costumes, growling like a terrifying sex fiend one minute, swooning like a jilted lover the next. "The way [an actor] gets into a character and plays a part also applies to my songwriting," she says. "I imagine myself in some other role or situation."

Though Harvey's gigantic vocal presence overshadows her band on "Dry", "Rid Of Me", and "To Bring You My Love", she's been working well with others over the past few years. Collaborations include a song on Nick Cave's "Murder Ballads", a duet with French composer Pascal Comelade, a forthcoming single with Tricky, and 1996's full-length "Dance Hall at Louse Point" with her teen-years bandmate John Parish. That album is somber, lyrical, and so very English, lacking the primordial blues ooze that make Harvey's earlier, self-centered work New World grand.

Harvey may have arrived on the scene during the grunge era, that glorious time when pop's glamour married punk’s defiance, but there's something old-time rock star about her. Maybe it's the feather boas, but she's always seemed to have more in common with Aretha than Tad. And at a time when hip-hop and dopey girlie folk are making alt-rock seem like an afterthought, many fans are hoping Harvey's upcoming album, "Is This Desire?", due out late '98, will save the capital-R kind of Rock. An idea, by the way, she finds laughable: "If I thought that, I would have been so terrified that I couldn't have written any songs. I just follow my heart at this stage in life."-1997 rank 10

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