I Inside The Old Year Dying
Listening to the sombre songs of I Inside the Old Year Dying it can feel like reading mood notes left on a mantlepiece, written by someone slightly distracted with every day existence - tending the garden, shopping, telly and chats with a small group of friends. Perhaps this would explain the slightly detached, puzzled pervading air. Ironically the song titles are more assured and promise more than the music.
Sung in a purer than Patti Smith croon and with instrumentation that occasionally reminds me of the psych folk that manifested so thoroughly in Paul Giovani’s imagined bucolic world of Olde Britain soundtrack for The Wicker Man. There are other connections with, for instance, the pulsating mono-synth lines of Silver Apples, subtly sitting under a couple of tracks. I also hear the Kinks’ Ray Davies at his most introspective and, somehow, an essence of the 1990s in the weary performances. Almost as if Polly is a bit fed up with PJ.
One of the problems for artists who came up during the 1990s is the desperate need of the now-40+ somethings to have their own legion of stardust sprinkled icons. This results in, say the mass karaoke performances of Pulp’s velvet suited live return or Blur’s recent return to the stage. Unfortunately Polly Harvey sits, perhaps uncomfortably, amongst these minor heroes who rode in on the horses of wilder and more original items from previous eras. Polly might actually, like Bjork and Jeff Buckley have a genuine right to the kind of iconic status that should be reserved for genuine originals. But I’m not sure.
The album takes itself seriously in the same way Radiohead albums do - self-referential and self-reverential, but unlike the Oxford proggies includes elements that suggest some fun was had, such as the zombie Bee Gee tracking the lead vocal on Autumn Term, which also includes the most fabulous use of playground sampling since Go! Team.
The production is… safely disappointing. There’s no sonic challenge, just what I presume is a fairly faithful recording of studio performance. So everything depends on if you are A PJ fan or not and I’m sort of not, still, despite listening with as little jaundice as possible. If the album was as interesting as Polly Harvey’s carefully honed persona (honed, admittedly, more by absence than hype) then it would truly be worth celebrating.
Main PJ Harvey image by Steve Gullick