PJ Harvey stands as one of the most influential artists to come out of the early ‘90s post-punk, lo-fi era. The English singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist’s debut album “Dry,” released when PJ Harvey also served as the name of her three-piece band, was met with an international critical response no one seemed to be expecting. Touted by critics as an instant classic, “Dry” has held true to its immediate acclaim and has been named to numerous lists of essential albums, but PJ Harvey’s success doesn’t end at the beginning, and she’s now one more eligible artist the Rock and Roll Hall of a Fame should recognize.
Polly Jean “PJ” Harvey grew up in Bridport, Dorset, where she was introduced to the music of Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan. She took guitar lessons, and eventually learned to play saxophone before joining in with local music groups. In 1988 Harvey joined a local band, Automatic Dlamini, which would serve to be a catalyst for her career. In 1991, Harvey left the group to form her own band. After relocating to London, some brief uncertainty about her future, and the recording of a handful of demos, the band’s first single, “Dress,” was released in the fall of 1991, and the praise rolled in on a large scale. While the trio wouldn’t survive past their successful sophomore album, “Rid of Me,” Harvey continued on to release her first official solo album, “To Bring You My Love,” in 1995. Although it was stylistically different than the preceding albums, it would go on to become Harvey’s best-selling release.
Harvey has successfully built a career off of being an artist from which you never quite know what to expect. She appears to delight in being the chameleon the industry has tried and failed to corner into a genre. While Harvey remains constant in who she is fundamentally, she is ever-changing in her creativity. “That’s my biggest fear; to stay put,” she said in an interview with The Telegraph, “I want to push myself and see where it can go, even if it means making mistakes.” Because each album is so authentic to whatever otherworldly creative channel Harvey is tuned in to at the time, this aspect of her process has only added to her longevity, endearing her to both long-time and newer fans.
Also adding to that longevity is the tendency Harvey has to write in a way that has often reflected what she’s referred to as a “human emotional perspective,” rather than taking a firm stance on either side of the fence where controversial or overtly political topics might be concerned. Perhaps this is explanatory of her often dismissing the public and the media’s wont to describe her as a feminist. It’s not that she doesn’t hold those views – her lyrics prove otherwise – it’s more that she’s an artist first, and any definitive labels get in the way of her desire to conceptualize the human experience in song. The goal is unity. The result is something universally relatable.
As far as accolades go, Harvey has been nominated for eight BRIT Awards and seven Grammy’s. She’s the first and only two-time recipient of the esteemed Mercury Prize, and she’s been recognized by the NME Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Music. Outside of music, Harvey is also adept at sculpting, and in 2015, she released her first collection of poetry titled, “The Hollow of the Hand.”
While she only became eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past year, PJ Harvey is one of those artists whose work is so widespread and voice so culturally relevant, that she deserves to be recognized for her ongoing contributions to the music industry. She’s unique, and that uniqueness has never wavered, even as it gets seemingly increasingly difficult to do something that’s never been done. Harvey’s innovation and devotion to her craft has already earned her a solid place in music history — now she just needs a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.