Flashback to a simpler time
In 1992, PJ Harvey released Dry, her debut album, to widespread critical acclaim. Unprecedented in its brash emotionality, mid-tempo garage soul and proto-grunge roots, Dry was the pinnacle of the early alt-rock renaissance. Over the next three decades and nearly a dozen albums later, Harvey has proven herself an invaluable catalytic force in the genre’s evolution.
Now, over 28 years after her momentous debut, Harvey has returned to her roots with Dry – Demos. The never-before-seen origin story of one of alt-rock’s most beloved heroes, the LP will appeal to seasoned and newer fans alike. Dry – Demos features stripped-down, rawer versions of each of Harvey’s original 11 songs, providing audiences with a vivid window into the past. Given 2020’s subpar track record so far, the album is a much-needed breath of fresh air. People should clear their schedule, kick back and be transported to a simpler time.
Dry – Demos is equal parts origin story and time capsule. Longtime Harvey fans will revel in the grungy nostalgia and relive the concurrent birth of a genre, while newer listeners will enjoy a behind-the scenes look at a climactic turning point in the evolution of rock, grunge and alternative music. The characteristics that immortalized the original album as an alt-rock milestone–unapologetic youthful angst, acerbic black humor and raw, heady sexuality–are even more prevalent in the demo version. Standouts “Dress” and “Sheela-Na-Gig” are more evocative and visceral than ever before, spotlighting a salacious young woman’s feelings of anger, frustration and inadequacy from a variety of unsuccessful romance entanglements.
Album closers “Plants And Rags,” “Fountain” and “Water” are an unexpected change of pace, distinguishing themselves with slower tempos and more reflective, dejected lyrics. Given the album’s title, the transition makes sense. In an album characterized by its unabashed sexuality and potent malcontent, the final three songs’ focus on purity is thematically rewarding. “Fountain” and “Water” are noticeably religious, citing biblical themes of being “washed clean” and “walking on water.”
Dry is clearly a spiritual journey, but Harvey leaves the destination intentionally ambiguous. On one hand, the album title could be a reference to Harvey’s spiritual dehydration–she feels lost, angry and alone and wishes for nothing but to be revitalized, cleansed anew by holy water. Does the album represent Harvey finally coming to terms with her flaws and being washed clean of them, or is it a dirge lamenting her inability to grow from her mistakes? Despite the multitude of potential interpretations, the singer leaves the verdict to the listener.
That said, Dry might simply refer to Harvey’s woefully long dry spell. The world may never know.