Rid of Me

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Rid of Me
Studio album by PJ Harvey
Released 4 May 1993
Recorded December 1992 at Pachyderm Studio, Cannon Falls, Minnesota
Genre Alternative rock, grunge, punk blues, indie rock, lo-fi
Length 47:59
Label Island
Producer Steve Albini
PJ Harvey chronology
Dry
(1992)
Rid of Me
(1993)
4-Track Demos
(1993)
Singles from Rid of Me
  1. "50ft Queenie"
    Released: April 1993
  2. "Man-Size"
    Released: July 1993

Rid of Me is the second studio album by English alternative rock musician PJ Harvey. It was released by Island Records in May 1993, approximately one year after the release of her critically acclaimed debut album Dry. It marked a departure from Harvey’s previous songwriting, being more raw and aggressive than its predecessor.

The songs on Rid of Me were performed by Harvey’s eponymous trio, consisting of Harvey on guitar and vocals, Rob Ellis on drums and background vocals, and Steve Vaughan on bass. It was the last album they recorded as a group before disbanding in late 1993. Most of the songs on the album were recorded by Steve Albini. Rid of Me was met with acclaim by critics. It has been ranked at number 405 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Background and History[edit]

Harvey’s first two albums were recorded in quick succession and their histories intertwine. In October 1991, she released her debut single "Dress." She signed with indie record label Too Pure and relocated to London with her band mates. Almost immediately after the single’s release, she began to receive serious positive attention from music critics in both the UK and United States. This led to several major record labels vying to sign her. Harvey was initially reluctant to sign to a major label fearing she might lose artistic control of her music, but eventually decided to sign with Island Records in February 1992. A month later, Too Pure released her debut album Dry, containing both "Dress" and "Sheela-Na-Gig", her second single. Island would later distribute Dry under its Indigo imprint.

The band toured extensively in the UK and US to support Dry. Harvey turned down an offer to play the Lollapalooza festival in the summer of 1992,[1] but did play the Reading Festival that August. By this time, non-stop touring had begun to take its toll on Harvey's health. She suffered from what has been described as a nervous breakdown, brought on by a number of factors including exhaustion,[2] poor eating habits, and the break-up of a relationship.[3][4] Making matters worse, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, where she had been accepted for study, refused to hold her place for her any longer.[5] She left her London apartment and retreated to her native Dorset. While recuperating in October 1992, she worked on the songs that would appear on Rid of Me.

Music and lyrics[edit]

The album's title track "ricochets violently between revenge fantasies and the desperate neediness of the backing chorus."[6]

The first single was called "a determined blast of punk-edged rock. And the lyric? God only knows what planet this woman is on."[7]

"Me-Jane" features the "strangely skewed time signatures and twisty song structures"[8] that characterize the album.

"Ecstasy" highlights the influence of American blues music in Harvey’s songwriting.

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Musically, Rid of Me is more raw than that which Harvey had written for Dry. On her first album, she experimented with two-guitar harmonies ("Happy and Bleeding") and acoustic guitar ("Plants and Rags"). The songs on Rid of Me, however, are played mostly with one electric guitar, and heavy distortion is used on many of the tracks. She also used vocal distortion on "Hook" and "Yuri-G".[9] Most of the songs are played using just guitar, drums, and bass. Only four songs on the album use additional instruments (strings are used on "Man-Size Sextet", "Legs", and "Yuri-G", and organ is used on "Hook"). She was still drawing heavy influences from American blues music, especially Howlin' Wolf, who she was particularly interested in at the time.[8] Stylistically the record was a natural progression from the heavily guitar-driven punk-blues of her debut, though it also embraced both the noisy elementary dynamics of the Pixies (she claimed their Albini-produced 1988 debut Surfer Rosa as one of her favourite albums), and 1960s-1970s blues-based rock acts such as Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Structurally, Harvey continued to complicate her songwriting by utilizing "strangely skewed time signatures and twisty song structures"[8] resulting in songs that "tilt toward performance art".[10]

The vocals were also handled differently on Rid of Me. Harvey began to increasingly experiment with what her voice could do, and on several songs she pushed her voice to a higher register. This higher voice can be heard on the bridge of "50 ft. Queenie" as well as in "Man-Size" and "Me-Jane." Ellis also altered the delivery of his background vocals. His vocals on Dry were sung in his normal voice (most notably on the song "Joe"), but for Rid of Me he sang in a high-pitched, almost hysterical-sounding falsetto.

The album's lyrics have been widely interpreted as being feminist in nature. Harvey, however, repeatedly denied a feminist agenda in her songwriting, stating "I don’t even think of myself as being female half the time. When I’m writing songs I never write with gender in mind. I write about people’s relationships to each other. I’m fascinated with things that might be considered repulsive or embarrassing. I like feeling unsettled, unsure."[8] Some of the lyrics were inspired by her personal experiences. The title track, for instance, was admittedly influenced by one of Harvey’s relationships coming to an end. When told by an interviewer that "Rid of Me" sounded psychotic, she replied that she wrote the song "at my illest" and added "I was almost psychotic" at the time.[3] But, she made it clear that not all of the lyrics were to be read autobiographically, saying "I would have to be 40 and very worn out to have lived through everything I write about".[3]

The album also includes a cover of the Bob Dylan song "Highway 61 Revisited". Harvey's mother and father, both Dylan fans, suggested she record the track.[11]

Recording[edit]

In the late fall of 1992 the trio embarked on a short U.S. tour. When the tour concluded in December they stayed in America to record their new album at the secluded Pachyderm Recording Studios in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. Harvey chose Chicago musician and sound engineer Steve Albini to record the album.[12] Harvey had admired Albini’s distinctively raw recordings of bands like Pixies, Slint, The Breeders and The Jesus Lizard.

The recording session took place over a two-week period, but according to Harvey the bulk of the recording was done in three days.[13] Most of the songs were played live in the studio. Harvey spoke highly of Albini’s recording, stating, "He’s the only person I know that can record a drum kit and it sounds like you’re standing in front of a drum kit. It doesn’t sound like it’s gone through a recording process or it’s coming out of speakers. You can feel the sound he records, and that is why I wanted to work with him, 'cause all I ever wanted is for us to be recorded and to sound like we do when we’re playing together in a room"[13]

She also gave insight into his recording methods, saying "The way that some people think of producing is to sort of help you to arrange or contributing or playing instruments, he does none of that. He just sets up his microphones in a completely different way from which I’ve ever seen anyone set up mikes before, and that was astonishing. He’d have them on the floor, on the walls, on the windows, on the ceiling, twenty feet away from where you were sitting... He’s very good at getting the right atmosphere to get the best take."[14]

The song "Man Size Sextet" was not recorded by Albini. It was instead produced by Harvey, Rob Ellis, and Head.

Shortly after finishing Rid of Me, Albini was hired by Nirvana to record the album that would become In Utero. He sent Nirvana a copy of the recently completed record as an example of what the studio could sound like.[15]

Artwork[edit]

The cover of the album depicts Harvey topless and swinging her drenched hair into the air. The photo was captured by Harvey’s friend and photographer Maria Mochnacz, and was taken in Mochnacz’s bathroom. Due to the small size of the room, she had to place her camera against the wall opposite Harvey and couldn’t look through the camera’s viewfinder. The photo was taken in total darkness and only illuminated by the split-second flash.

When the photo was delivered to Island Records, Mochnacz was told that the imperfections in the picture (such as the water drops on the wall and the house plant) could be removed. She protested this decision, responding, "It’s supposed to be like that – It’s part of the picture".[16]

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars [17]
BBC Music (favourable) [18]
Robert Christgau A [19]
Entertainment Weekly D [20]
Los Angeles Times 4/4 stars [21]
NME (8/10)[citation needed]
Rolling Stone 3/5 stars [22]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 4.5/5 stars [23]
Spin (10/10) [24]

Rid of Me was released on 4 May 1993. It immediately started to draw praise from music critics in the U.S. and Great Britain. Melody Maker raved that "No other British artist is so aggressively exploring the dark side of human nature, or its illogically black humour; no other British artist possesses the nerve, let alone the talent, to conjure up its soundtrack". Veteran UK broadcaster John Peel, a supporter of Harvey since the beginning of her career, added "You’re initially so taken aback by what you’re hearing. But you go back again and again and it implants itself on your consciousness."[25] The San Francisco Chronicle called Harvey "A talent and a singular voice that demands to be heard."[26] The album also drew attention from more established musicians. Elvis Costello, for example, commented that a lot of Harvey’s songs "seem to be about blood and fucking", a statement Harvey disagreed with.[27]

"I was surprised at people's positive reaction to Rid of Me. I liked it but I thought it was a very...difficult album. I thought people who had the first album wouldn't like it."

- PJ Harvey[3]

Steve Albini's production of the record proved controversial. Critics were divided over whether his recording complemented Harvey’s voice or buried it. On the positive side, it was written that "Albini deftly balances heavy feedback and distortion with unexpected quiet breaks, making this release more musically diverse- and ultimately more satisfying- than PJ Harvey’s debut."[28] But others considered the recording too harsh, saying "Steve Albini’s deliberately crude production leaves everything minimal and rough, as if the whole album were recorded in somebody’s basement, with the drums set up in a bathroom to clatter as chaotically as possible."[29] Another review called it simply "a trial to endure".[30] Critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine tried to reconcile Albini’s production with Harvey’s songs. He admitted the album has a "bloodless, abrasive edge" that leaves "absolutely no subtleties in the music," but theorizes that Albini’s recordings "may be the aural embodiment of the tortured lyrics, and therefore a supremely effective piece of performance art, but it also makes Rid of Me a difficult record to meet halfway."[17]

Harvey herself was pleased with the end result. "I do everything for myself primarily," she said, "and I was happy with it. I don’t really listen when people say good things about my work because I tend to not give myself praise about anything. But I was really pleased with Rid of Me. For that period of my life, it was perfect. Well, it wasn’t perfect but as near to as I could get at that time".[5] She remained friends with Albini afterward, finding in him a kindred spirit. "People read things in and make him what they want him to be," Harvey said. "He's the only other person I know that that happens to besides myself. People have a very specific idea of what I am- some kind of ax-wielding, man-eating Vampira- and I'm not that at all. I'm almost the complete opposite."[31]

The album yielded two singles; "50 ft. Queenie" and "Man-Size." The music videos for both songs were directed by Maria Mochnacz. "50 ft. Queenie" was named a buzzworthy video by MTV in the Spring of 1993.

Tour[edit]

Harvey and her band toured in the spring and summer of 1993 to support Rid of Me. The tour began in the UK in May and moved to America in June. Maria Mochnacz documented aspects of the tour, and her footage was used to create the long-form video Reeling with PJ Harvey (1994). Harvey’s concert setlist drew from Dry and Rid of Me, but also highlighted songs that did not appear on either of those recordings. For example, she regularly performed a cover of the Willie Dixon song "Wang Dang Doodle". One reviewer praised Harvey’s version and called it "perhaps the definitive version of that song."[3]

In August they finished the tour with a string of dates opening for U2 during their Zooropa tour. In the fall the trio started to disintegrate, first with the departure of Ellis and then Vaughan shortly afterward. By September Harvey was performing as a solo artist.[32]

Accolades[edit]

Rid of Me entered the UK album charts at number three and quickly went silver, and enjoyed a Top 30 hit in the single "50 ft. Queenie". In the U.S. it generated major college-radio airplay and expanded her growing fan base. It also won considerable critical acclaim and featured in various Top Ten album-of-the-year lists in respectable press, like The Village Voice, Spin, Melody Maker, Vox and Select. Spin gave it a rare ten out of ten review rating. Rid of Me was shortlisted for the 1993 Mercury Prize, but lost to Suede. If anything its critical stature has grown over the years—Rolling Stone selected it as one of the Essential Recordings of the 90s, and in 2005, Spin ranked it the ninth greatest album of 1985–2005[33] after it had ranked it only the 37th greatest album of the 90s after To Bring You My Love at number 3.[34] In 2003, the album was ranked number 405 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[35] In 2011, Slant Magazine ranked Rid of Me as the 25th greatest album of the 90s.[36] In 2014, the album placed tenth on the Alternative Nation site's "Top 10 Underrated 90’s Alternative Rock Albums" list. [37]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Polly Jean Harvey, except where noted.

  1. "Rid of Me" – 4:28
  2. "Missed" – 4:25
  3. "Legs" – 3:40
  4. "Rub 'til It Bleeds" – 5:03
  5. "Hook" – 3:57
  6. "Man-Size Sextet" – 2:18
  7. "Highway 61 Revisited" (Bob Dylan) – 2:57
  8. "50ft Queenie" – 2:23
  9. "Yuri-G" – 3:28
  10. "Man-Size" – 3:16
  11. "Dry" – 3:23
  12. "Me-Jane" – 2:42
  13. "Snake" – 1:36
  14. "Ecstasy" – 4:26

Personnel[edit]

All personnel credits adapted from Rid of Me '​s liner notes.[38]

PJ Harvey Trio
Technical personnel
Art personnel
  • Maria Mochnacz – photography

Chart positions[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Maestri, Cathy, "PJ Harvey is Taking No Prisoners", The Press-Enterprise (California). Entertainment Section, p. C09, 15 July 1993. Harvey felt that Lollapalooza's format would not suit her music or her fans.
  2. ^ Rees, Dafydd and Luke Crampton, VH1 Rock Stars Encyclopedia, DK adult; Revised edition, 1999
  3. ^ a b c d e Sullivan, Carolyn, "Good Golly Miss Polly; Screeching Harridan? Feminist Heroine? One Thing's Certain: Polly Jean Harvey's tortured song-tantrums are a far cry from Captain Beefheart", The Guardian (London), Features, p. 8, 1 October 1993.
  4. ^ Describing her eating habits in the Guardian article, Harvey said "I wasn't being healthy when I lived in London. I wanted to have complete control of myself, and I thought, in my twisted mind, that I could not eat for three days and still function"
  5. ^ a b Fay, Liam (19 April 1995). "Polly Unsaturated". Hot Press. Retrieved 16 August 2010. 
  6. ^ Reynold, Simon and Joy Press, "The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock 'n' Roll, Harvard University Press, 1995. p. 339
  7. ^ Plunkett, Richard, The Age (Melbourne, Australia), News section, p.4, 23 April 1993
  8. ^ a b c d Sandall, Robert, "Just Like A Woman", The Sunday Times (London), Features section, 2 May 1993
  9. ^ In the long-form video Reeling With PJ Harvey (Vision Video, 1994) Albini identifies the distortion "dynamic el-move-o flangoid"
  10. ^ Giles, Jeff (3 May 1993). "Move Over Tarzan, PJ Harvey is Back". Newsweek. Retrieved 19 August 2010. 
  11. ^ Cavanaugh, David. "Nemesis in a Scarlet Dress", The Independent (London), Magazine section, p. 30, 25 February 1995.
  12. ^ Albini does not like to be credited as "producer" on the albums he records. He prefers the term "sound engineer" or asks to be given a "recorded by" credit.
  13. ^ a b "Appearance on MTV's 120 Minutes, interviewed by Lewis Largent, June 20, 1993". Retrieved 30 August 2010. 
  14. ^ Quoted from Reeling With PJ Harvey, Vision Video Ltd., 1994
  15. ^ Gaar, Gillian G. In Utero. Continuum, 2006. p. 39 ISBN 0-8264-1776-0
  16. ^ "Maria Mochnacz official website". Retrieved 22 August 2010. 
  17. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. Rid of Me at AllMusic. Retrieved 28 June 2004.
  18. ^ Diver, Mike (9 October 2009). "PJ Harvey Rid of Me > Review". BBC Music. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  19. ^ Christgau, Robert (1 June 1993). "Consumer Guide: Pick Hit: PJ Harvey: Rid of Me". The Village Voice. Retrieved 15 November 2011.  Also posted at "PJ Harvey: Rid of Me > Consumer Album Guide". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 28 June 2004. 
  20. ^ Thomas, Dave (7 May 1993). "Rid of Me Review". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 5 September 2012. 
  21. ^ Hilburn, Robert (2 May 1993). "PJ Harvey's Impassioned Return". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 June 2010. 
  22. ^ Kot, Greg (10 June 1993). "Exile In Guyville Liz Phair / Rid of Me PJ Harvey > Album Reviews". Rolling Stone (658). p. 68. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  23. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian, eds. (2004). "PJ Harvey". The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. London: Fireside. pp. 368–369. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. Retrieved 18 October 2011.  Portions posted at "PJ Harvey > Album Guide". rollingstone.com. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  24. ^ McDonnell, Evelyn (May 1993). "Platter du Jour: PJ Harvey Rid of Me". Spin 9 (2): 78. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  25. ^ Duffy, Thom (6 March 1993). "Eager Fans Await Sophomore Disc by PJ Harvey". Billboard 105 (10): 1. Retrieved 1 September 2010. 
  26. ^ Snyder, Michael (14 July 1993). "PJ Harvey Wails Musical Anguish". San Francisco Chronicle. p. D1. 
  27. ^ "Lips, Hips, Tits, Power; PJ Harvey, Björk, Tori Amos". Q. May 1994. Retrieved 1 September 2010. 
  28. ^ Romandetta, Julie (7 May 1993). "Brit singer Polly Harvey pours out her rage in a furious punk sound". The Boston Herald. Scene section, p.S14. 
  29. ^ Dollar, Steve (15 May 1993). "PJ opens a wound and lets it bleed". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Leisure section, p.26,. 
  30. ^ Gilbey, Ryan (10 March 1995). "Beyond the art of darkness; PJ Harvey/Tricky Cambridge Corn Exchange". The Independent (London). Music/Pop section, p. 31. 
  31. ^ DeRogatis, Jim (9 June 1995). "Harvey Prefers Practicing to Preaching". The Chicago Sun-Times. Weekend section, p.5. 
  32. ^ On 24 September 1993 Harvey appeared on The Tonight Show and performed the song “Rid of Me” using only her guitar and voice.
  33. ^ Ganz, Caryn (July 2005). "100 Greatest Albums 1985-2005: 9 PJ Harvey Rid of Me". Spin 21 (7): 71. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  34. ^ Weisbard, Eric (September 1999). "The 90 Greatest Albums of the '90s: 37 PJ Harvey Rid of Me". Spin 15 (9): 138. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  35. ^ Levy, Joe; Steven Van Zandt (2006) [2005]. "405 | Rid of Me - PJ Harvey". Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (3rd ed.). London: Turnaround. ISBN 1-932958-61-4. OCLC 70672814. Retrieved 25 February 2006. 
  36. ^ "Best Albums of the '90s: 25. PJ Harvey, Rid of Me". Slant Magazine. 14 February 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  37. ^ http://www.alternativenation.net/10-underrated-90s-alt-rock-albums/
  38. ^ Rid of Me (Media notes). PJ Harvey. Island Records. 1993. 514 696-2. 
  39. ^ a b "PJ HARVEY | Artist | Official Charts". UK Albums Chart. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  40. ^ "PJ Harvey Album & Song Chart History | Billboard.com". Billboard. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  41. ^ Rid of Me - PJ Harvey | AllMusic at AllMusic
  42. ^ "British album certifications – PJ Harvey – Rid of Me". British Phonographic Industry.  Enter Rid of Me in the field Search. Select Title in the field Search by. Select album in the field By Format. Click Go