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PJ Harvey

During the early-'90s alternative rock explosion, several female singer/songwriters rose to prominence, but few were as distinctive or as widely praised as Polly Jean Harvey. Over the course of three albums, Harvey established herself as one of the most individual and influential songwriters of the '90s, exploring themes of sex, love, and religion with unnerving honesty, dark humor, and a twisted theatricality. At the outset of her career, she led the trio PJ Harvey, who delivered her stark songs with bruisingly powerful, punkish abandon, as typified by her 1992 debut, Dry. Following the noisy, uncompromising follow-up Rid of Me, the trio fell apart, and PJ Harvey became the sole property of Polly Harvey. Her next record, 1995's To Bring You My Love, became her mainstream critical breakthrough, confirming her status as one of the cornerstone figures of '90s alternative rock. Polly Jean Harvey was raised on a sheep farm in Yeovil, England, where she was raised by her quarryman father and her mother, who was an artist. As a child, she learned how to play guitar and saxophone, and when she was a teenager, she played in a variety of bands as a sideman. In 1991, she formed PJ Harvey with bassist Steve Vaughn and drummer Robert Ellis, and the trio recorded its debut record for under 5,000 dollars. The band signed with the British indie label Too Pure and released "Dress" that fall. "Dress" became a indie rock sensation, as did its follow-up "Sheela-Na-Gig," with both singles receiving lavish praise in the U.K. music press. Although Harvey was a reluctant interviewee, she cannily used the press to her advantage, whether it was through her candid interviews or startling, occasionally disturbingly sexy photo sessions, which subverted traditional concepts of female sexuality. PJ Harvey's debut Dry was released in spring 1992 to considerable praise; it was distributed in America by Island Records. The trio followed it with an extensive tour, culminating with an appearance at that summer's Reading Festival. Shortly after the tour, Harvey moved to London, where she nearly suffered a nervous breakdown due to the extraordinary pressure and expectation surrounding her second album. The group hired former Big Black frontman Steve Albini (Pixies, Breeders), as the producer of their second album, Rid of Me. Albini imposed his trademark noisy, guitar-heavy sound on the record, which mirrored its harder-edged themes. Rid of Me was a major critical success and expanded Harvey's cult greatly. She supported the album with a tour featuring herself in a fake leopard-skin coat and a feather boa, signaling her developing interest in theatricality. At the end of the year, Harvey released 4-Track Demos, a collection of her original versions of the songs on Rid of Me. Following the Rid of Me tour, Ellis and Vaughn parted ways with Harvey, and she recorded her third album as a solo artist, augmented by producer Flood, bassist Mick Harvey and guitarists John Parish and Joe Gore. Harvey developed a richer, bluesier sound with the expanded band, and the resulting record, To Bring You My Love, was hailed as a masterpiece by many critics upon its February 1995 release. Thanks to considerable press attention, as well as strong support from MTV and modern rock radio for the single "Down By the Water," To Bring You My Love became a moderate hit, entering the U.S. charts at number 40. Harvey spent all of 1995 touring the album, and spent the following year in relative seclusion. During 1996 she was relatively quiet, only appearing twice on record: once in a duet with Nick Cave on his Murder Ballads album -- the pair were reportedly romantically involved -- and singing on John Parish's Dance Hall at Louse Point. Is This Desire followed in 1998. Two years later, Harvey reunited with Ellis and Mick Harvey for Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, which returned to her earlier, more aggressive style and was inspired by her six-month stay in New York City in 1999. Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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