PJ Harvey (ft. Gillian Anderson)
The album, All About Eve (Original Music), is available via:
12th April, 2019
Invada Records/Lakeshore Records
I like my Saturday slot...
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
because I get to look at an artist who is established and someone I know will provide the goods. On this occasion, it is the turn of PJ Harvey. I will talk about the work she has produced for All About Eve – a play running in London concerning an aging Broadway star who gets her career and life threatened by an ambitious fan – but I wanted to talk about other things first. I have wanted to discuss PJ Harvey for some time now and, with an album of original music out, this seems like the perfect chance. I was not expecting any new music from Harvey this year but, as this Rolling Stone article from last year shows, we have been building up to it.
“PJ Harvey will provide the score for an upcoming stage adaptation of the classic 1950 film All About Eve. The adaptation has booked a three-month run at London’s Noel Coward Theatre beginning February 2nd.
The Academy Award for Best Picture-winning All About Eve, itself an adaptation of the play The Wisdom of Eve, starred Bette Davis as a Broadway star and Anne Baxter as a young fan of the actress. In the London staging, Gillian Anderson will take on the Bette Davis role while Baby Driver‘s Lily James will portray the adoring fan.
Harvey previously provided the scores to documentaries like 2005’s Ukrajina and Towards Mathilde, as well as the 2016 play The Nest”.
The play has received huge praise and it will be a shame to see its run come to an end. I will circle back to that but, when thinking about PJ Harvey, I wanted to discuss these huge artists who keep on growing and inspiring; those who step into stage/screen scoring and uniting music and drama; why artists like PJ Harvey are making me hopeful for the future of music and actors collaborating in music. I will start by looking at PJ Harvey because, back in 2016, she released The Hope Six Demolition Project. It was another well-received and fantastic album from the icon.
IMAGE CREDIT: tomhermans
Look back at her career and has there been another solo artist over the past couple of decades who has been able to match Harvey’s innovation, quality and impact? Albums such as Rid of Me (1993) are among the best albums ever released. That album, as the title implies, saw Harvey discover the dark side of human nature. In fact, she was exploring it fully and created this very challenging and bold soundtrack. With Steve Albini producing, many raised their eyebrows and were not sure. The results speak for themselves. I adore that album but am aware that it is quite challenging and black. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea came in 2000 and it was another terrific album. Somewhat lighter and inspired by New York, the album is another remarkable move. Look back at the career of PJ Harvey and you are amazed by the scope and quality you find. From her debut, 1992’s Dry, through to her current movements, there is this unique stamp and sound that only PJ Harvey creates. Her best modern-times album, Let England Shake (2011), was nominated for a Mercury prize and was another genius release. It has been a busy career for Harvey and, through the decades, she has changed the face of music and inspired so many other artists. I am excited to see what comes next from Harvey but, if you are new to her work, go back through the back catalogue and discover this phenomenal songwriter. At times raw and open, at others warm and inviting – here is an artist who is never predictable and puts so much emotion and honesty into her work. As it is Record Store Day today, what better excuse do you need than heading down to your local record shop and picking up a PJ Harvey album?! She will continue to inspire artists for generations to come but, at a time when there is a new generation of female songwriters shining, one would do well to look back at Harvey’s work and realise how influential it is.
PHOTO CREDIT: Seamus Murphy
One of my biggest complaints is the lack of female artists booked to headline festivals. I have moaned about this for a long time and I do wonder whether there will be a resolution. This year’s biggest festivals have booked all those headliners and, once more, there are very few female artists to be found. I did wonder why PJ Harvey wasn’t booked to headline at least one festival this year because, in my view, she would put on a storming set! One cannot say there is a lack of worthy female talent ready to headline. The industry gets it into their heads that men are the most competent and bookable artists and they have been ignoring great women for decades. PJ Harvey’s immense body of work tells you that, here, there is an artist who is perfectly capable of headlining a festival and doing a much better job that a lot of the acts booked this year. I digress but it is frustrating when you have this world-class artist like Harvey and see her overlooked. My main point was to illuminate her catalogue and show you what a terrific artist she is. She seems to keep growing in terms of curiosity and scope and, looking ahead, I wonder how this will manifest itself. This year has already been busy and exciting; I wonder whether we will see any other big albums arriving in April. Every year provides huge quality but I think 2019 has been especially bold and exciting. Not only has film composition become broader and attracted big names to its fold but the same can be said for the theatre. I do wonder whether music needs to play a bigger role in the arts in general. I shall talk about that in just a second but I would suggest, for anyone reading this, they investigate the work of PJ Harvey and make it part of their lives! She is one of the best songwriters of the past couple of generations and I hope we see many more records from her.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I will discuss All About Eve in a bit but I have been left a bit cold by British drama. We do theatre really well but, in terms of T.V. drama, we go down the same path all the time. We are obsessed with police dramas and domestic scenes. Look at all the biggest dramas on our screens now – and those that have appeared through this year – and there is very little variation and excitement. Not only are the dramas completely humourless and samey, we seem to have it in our heads that people want to see the same thing. The Americans have lots more imagination when it comes to drama. They can explore exciting areas and topics that brilliantly translate to the screen. We here need to watch the Americans when it comes to drama and realise that more ambition and bravery results in genuinely moving pieces. I do wonder whether the link between music and drama is not being exploited. PJ Harvey has collaborated with musicians James Johnston and Kenrick Rowe and brought new life and dynamics to the play – adapted from the film of the same name. I ask myself why British drama-makers tend to get fixated with the same boring themes and do not really stretch their imagination. Look at what is happening on the stage and it is so much more exciting and original. I do wonder whether T.V. producers and directors should look at the theatre and bring some of that magic to the box. I do like the fact that a big musician like PJ Harvey has decided to step into this medium. Not only should T.V. dramas borrow from music and periods of music for inspiration but they could do well to make music a bigger part of things. Another thing I am noticing is more and more popular artists composing for the stage and screen. This is one of the biggest changes that has happened over the past few years.
IMAGE CREDIT: Mai Blanco
Look back at the classic film scores through the decades and they are all composed by traditional composers. Now, more and more films, plays and shows are being scored by more familiar musicians. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood have composed for films; this article shows other big names who have moved into film and it is exciting to see the nature of scores changing. In many ways, the more open and diverse compositional market means that great films are being given more energy, possibility and nuance. This also applies to the stage. Think about what the likes of PJ Harvey are doing and how the music and performances interact. I often think about theatre and music and assume there is not going to be too much to highlight. There are some great film scores but do we really connect musical brilliance and theatre together – I mean, outside of musicals and that kind of thing? Harvey wanted to work on All About Eve so she was free from the constraints of songs. She does not have a songbook to work from and does not have to fit her music around lyrics. Instead, there is almost like this blank page where she can work from. Get the soundtrack now and you will be blown away by the various moods and stories being told. I do think that many people will come and see the play based on the music. I do think music and artists can heighten productions and add something brilliant. I have bemoaned the lack of great British dramas but I do feel like changes can be made. Understanding the importance of music in general and how that can elevate scenes; pushing the envelope in terms of concepts and synopsis’; expanding the spectrum and dipping into areas away from family/police dramas and realising there is a whole world out there. Maybe I am rambling but I am excited to see how music and theatre interact. I think imaginative music can lift acting whereas a great performance can bring something new from music.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Before I move onto reviewing a track from All About Eve, I wanted to mention actors and collaborations with musicians. Gillian Anderson sings on The Sandman and she appears in the London play with Lily James. I am a big fan of Gillian Anderson and, if you do not follow her on social media, make sure you correct that. She is charming, cheeky and cool and makes you smile! She is a fantastic actor and I do think she is one of the most underrated talents out there. I think she lives in London at the moment and I wonder whether she will appear in British dramas/comedies very soon. Right now, she can be seen in the T.V. show, Sex Education. As she revealed in this article, she had the chance to play a less-than-serious character:
“I’ve always played such serious characters before,” Anderson said by phone from London, where she is rehearsing for a forthcoming stage production of All About Eve, in which she’ll star alongside Lily James. “I’ve never had an experience like that where I’ve gotten to just let it all hang out, so that in and of itself was such a pleasure.”
A show about teenagers addled by hormones, Sex Education is cringe-inducingly funny—it opens on a scene of two teens having rampant, yet unsatisfying, sex—and unexpectedly poignant. Anderson plays Jean Milburn, a British single mom and sex therapist whose adventurous approach to sexuality has not rubbed off on her geeky 16-year-old son Otis (Asa Butterfield). In fact, Otis is so repelled by his own desires that he can’t masturbate, let alone make out with girls”.
It would be great to see Anderson on the screen more and, now that she has appeared in a London theatre production, on the stage. It is quite rare seeing actors contribute vocals to music. I love what Anderson has done on The Sandman and, curiously, I wonder whether Gillian Anderson has considered a move into music.
IN THIS PHOTO: Gillian Anderson/PHOTO CREDIT: @charlottehuco
It is neat seeing the worlds of acting and music fuse. There have been occasions where big actors have recorded music – from Hugh Jackman to Bruce Willis – but I think it should happen more. Not only can Gillian Anderson and Lily James’ involvement in the soundtrack make more people want to investigate PJ Harvey but PJ Harvey’s involvement in All About Eve will get more to the theatre. I do love the bond between the stage and music and how it has evolved through the years. The music world has expanded through the decades and the fact artists like PJ Harvey are stepping into new worlds will inspire many. In years past, film and stage scores were reserved to those with a more traditional background in that sense. Not that mainstream artists are diluting the waters but they are showing that anyone can do it and there is a whole world waiting. Look at the music through the All About Eve score and it has given Harvey the chance to be liberated. I think she has created some of her best modern work on the score and love the fact actors like Gillian Anderson have worked alongside her. I do wonder whether Anderson will lend her voice to more musical projects as she is very natural and authoritative! I do think there needs to be a closer link between music and drama in general as it has worked marvellously on All About Eve. As British T.V. drama stagnates and lacks any real colour, there are definite opportunities out there. I will move on to a new subject – the song review, in fact! – in a bit but I do think that PJ Harvey’s work here will see some changes on T.V., the stage and film. I also love discovering that much-loved actors have a really great voice and reveal talents you didn’t know they had. If you have not seen the play, go and see All About Eve before its run ends. It is a magnificent production that has, quite rightly, been receiving some very hot reviews.
PHOTO CREDIT: Rex
The Sandman is one of the shortest songs on All About Eve. There is this haunting and pressing piano line that captures you and gets into the heart. With ethereal vocals and a really stunning performance from Gillian Anderson, you are immersed in this song that makes its impression felt the first time around. It is always hard approaching a score/soundtrack if you have not seen the production. Some might say that the songs are out-of-context and unusual if you do not know the story and history. I think there is a case for that but you can appreciate songs on their own merit and do not need to know the true background and context to get an understanding. We hear the heroine talk about this spirit and feeling that comes to her during the night. The vocal floats and has that mix of dreaminess and sensuality; the song’s eponymous figure brings love to the heroine and, as someone who has not seen the All About Eve play, I do wonder whether the song represents a pivotal moment. Looking at things from a purely musical standpoint, one is stunned by the grace and beauty of the performance and how gripping the song is. People will have their own impression of the visuals/song and what it is telling us. I actually imagined Anderson wrestling with dreams and nightmares and trying to forget painful memories. Maybe she has had better times and not found the success (now) that she had before. Going to sleep and letting her dreams take her away, it seems there is more positivity, hope and calm. You do get the sense you are inside the head of the heroine and following what she dreams. Harvey’s score is the perfect balance between calm and spiritual; mixing in something more urgent and unsettled. There are words regarding the moon arising and there being fears. I speculated how the heroine might be looking for nightmares to end and there being this sort of calm in sleep. Maybe I have got things the wrong way around. Perhaps sleep is when nightmares come to play.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ben Weller for British Vogue
The vocals have this spectral power and, the more you listen to The Sandman, the more you discover. I love the vocal performance because it has so much power and beauty and it leads you in different directions. One can swim in the beauty of the vocals but there Harvey’s lyrics seem to get into the mind of someone who is quite troubled and more complex than you might think. The Sandman is quite a short number and does not outstay its welcome. In many ways, it is like a bridge between the events of the evening and the break of a new dawn. Although we do not hear much of Gillian Anderson’s voice on the All About Eve album, she makes a huge contribution and, like Lily James on The Moth, it is exciting hearing these popular figures sing. I listened to The Sandman a few times and was looking to see if I could guess the inspiration and the role it plays in All About Eve. One does not need to be familiar with the play/original film to empathise with the heroine or feel moved by the track. It has such an emotional weight and prowess that one cannot help play it over and over again. It is calming and inviting but there is a sense of unrest and ghostliness that infects and infuses its mood. There are so many reasons to recommend The Sandman as a song. It is the third track on the All About Eve score so you know that it sort of sets the scene and plays an important role. As a PJ Harvey composition, I cannot remember hearing anything similar on any of her albums. Harvey has always been able to bring something haunted and beautiful to music but not quite in this manner. It is a fantastic song from her and there are plenty more like that across All About Eve! Harvey shows her songwriting talents are bottomless and she is a master regarding mood and emotional resonance. Anderson is a revelation and someone who, I hope, gets more involved in music. There is a lot of great music around right now but I do think people ignore film and theatre soundtracks. They might assume it will be all Classical music and not what they like. Modern composers are much broader and popular artists like PJ Harvey are making scores more accessible and exciting, in my view. I love the entire All About Eve score and think there is some of PJ Harvey’s best work on it. Who would have ever thought we’d hear a song with PJ Harvey and Gillian Anderson harmonising and combining?! The Sandman is a magnificent track that spikes the imagination and makes one wonder. I was not aware Anderson had such a strong and versatile voice but, as we hear on the song, she is capable of showing the same breadth and ability as the best artists of the moment.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Cummins/Getty Images
I do think that PJ Harvey is one of those artists who sort of define what it is to be great. She has never taken an easy route when it comes to subject matter and I feel like she is one of those pioneers who has pushed music to new plains. I can hear so many of her tones in the best modern songwriters and I do hope that the new generation get familiar with one of the best artists ever. I am not sure whether there is a new studio album coming in the next year or two but it seems like Harvey has been pretty busy lately! One can forgive her if she wants to take some time off but I do feel like she will be making movements fairly soon. I love what she has done on the All About Eve score and how she stepped into new territory. She was not trapped by a particular mood/lyrics and was allowed to reign free and bold. The various songs on the album tell their own stories and very few of them exceed three minutes in length. It is a remarkable work and one that you dive into and surrender to. Maybe Harvey will contribute to other theatrical projects and do some film composition. You never know what you’ll get with PJ Harvey and it is great she continues to move in new directions and show what an immense talent she is. I have talked about T.V. drama and how music can play its part. I do worry that there is so little originality in British dramas and have been searching my mind for a reason why. The lack of risk is quite troubling but I do think that things like PJ Harvey composing music for a play will help. It will draw more eyes to the play and inspire writers to bring something more arresting and vivid to the screen – there has not been a T.V. drama like All About Eve on British T.V. for a while.
IN THIS PHOTO: Lily James (who appears in All About Eve with Gillian Anderson)/PHOTO CREDIT: Jan Versweyveld
Music itself is unexploited on T.V. and there is so much to choose from. Whether having a particular period of music/genre as a backdrop for a drama or concentrating on a particular artist/album, I do think there are endless possibilities. I shall leave my train of thought there because I have gone on a lot. I do think that PJ Harvey’s work on All About Eve will get more people into the theatre and, I hope, more people heading her way. There will be those who associate Harvey with a particular sound and might have been hesitant listening to her work for All About Eve. The fact artists can cross-pollinate and we see the clash of two worlds opens minds, new discovery and perspective. Make sure you investigate the score/soundtrack and discover just how far PJ Harvey’s talents extend! She is this ever-compelling artist who seems to have no limits. In many ways, big musicians composing for the theatre can get people like me watching plays. I have not been to the West End since I was a child and usually avoid plays. Not for any good reason but I do feel like the experience will be less moving than film or music. I do feel like many have this perception but, with such great reviews in, plays like All About Eve will bring more bums to seats. With big names like Lily James and Gillian Anderson involved, it is a must-see event. Let’s leave things there but I would urge people to listen to the All About Eve and, if they like it, go and see the play – or the other way around if you please! I might try and see if I can get a ticket to see the play and, on Record Store Day, I am sure I can find some time to spin All About Eve’s incredible score once more! I am not shocked PJ Harvey has produced such a masterful work and I do hope she does more of this in the future. She is one of the finest artists we have right now and, from her 1992 debut to now, PJ Harvey has always stood aside…
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press
FROM her peers.
Follow PJ Harvey
PHOTO CREDIT: Timothy Hiatt/WireImage