Is That All There Is? – John Parish, PJ Harvey

Holy Schamoley. I hadn’t heard this in a lifetime then some random string of software code threw it up on the streaming device on my TV while I was trying to get a sick dog to eat (he’s not sick sick, he’s just being a little twat) I was captivated once again.

PJ Harvey is a one woman art house movement. Her riotous early records have been fawned over by guys like me for almost 30 years while we try to find ways of not sounding a little bit creepy when we talk about her raw sexuality and her glamorous femininity. Polly Jean Harvey is a brilliant artist, a rock and roll superstar and a style icon.

When they officially titled this one so John’s name came up first and her’s second, it was to demonstrate the contributions Parish had made to her music for several years already. A long running collaboration that had to this point just gone out with the words PJ Harvey on the spine.

They’ve made two duo titled albums (so far) along side a body of work that shows up all over each others discographies. John has also worked with Mr E from Eels and the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse in a very varied career as producer and multi-instrumentalist musician. The first Parish/Harvey album from 1996 was titled Dance Hall At Louse Point. That’s where you can find Is That All There Is? It’s also home to tracks with titles like City Of No Sun, Lost Fun Zone and Urn With Dead Flowers In A Drained Pool.

It wasn’t a hit.

This ones a bit different though. She’s looking 100% the 90’s red lipped and shiny little dress grunge queen but the tracks a Leiber and Stoller cover version. Yes this awkward spoken word poem over fear inducing Jazz organ is from the team that brought the world Elvis Presley singing Hound Dog and King Creole. Originally the track was written for Peggy Lee. I didn’t know that 25 years ago. Listening to her version in subsequent years it’s a magnificent hybrid of show tune monologues and big band swing.

That’s not quite how John and Polly handle things. They’re going for a whole different pre-millennial dread type vibe. The whole thing might feel a bit performance art. It’s influence clearly reached 2000’s Brighton as it puts me in mind of The Pipettes fondly. I know we’ve been down that road a couple of times.

I remember hearing it in the mid-nineties at the sort of art college party that gets a bit too intense after the wine has run out but before the sun comes up. I liked it a lot then. I love that it has just crashed back into my memory like some repressed incident at the theater involving murky details and very clear feelings of anxiety and dread.

It pulls me in like an undertow. This slow spoken word take on a polite Peggy Lee hit from half a century ago. That’s the PJ Harvey effect.


8 thoughts on “Is That All There Is? – John Parish, PJ Harvey

  1. Your first video isn’t available to watch so I went to youtube. I love their using the organ music while she sings. I remember the original and it seemed a little wooden. Harvey brings it to life, and she leaves on a note of hope, like giving the darkness the finger. Glad the song dropped in on you, and your dog sounds like my mom’s dog. Finicky more by mood than anything. One of my cats is like that, but she isn’t a skeleton by any stretch 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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