Adrift on a dissident path of suicidal keys and fatality falsettos, the former Mercury Prize champion Polly Jean Harvey delivers a ripened parcel of mercurial virtue on her eighth record White Chalk, much like Cat Power’s You Are Free or any dejected sound from the depraved soul of Tori Amos.
The album title would suggest a pasty and bland tone but Harvey’s willingness to thrust her delectable bones high off and far away from her typical acerbity is what makes this effort so festive. Polly Jean’s vicious vocal chords reach an altitude unheard on previous recordings but her legendary confidence remains unmarred by this gallant detour from ferociousness. Harvey is, after all, a professional.
Quaint and admissible, White Chalk lacks the breathtaking swagger of 2000′s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea or the bitter disdain expunged on 2004′s Uh Huh Her, which was all but a St. Valentine’s Day massacre aimed at the greasy head of Vincent Gallo. But this monument is so chilling and exquisite with a debilitated pulse so eloquent and bold that it forces the obtrusive inquiry: can one artist win the Mercury Prize for a second time?
Zithers, wine glasses, broken harps, mini-moogs, acoustic guitars and cig fiddles accompany Harvey’s terse tunes like pallbearers en route to an open grave. Produced by longtime amigos John Parish and Flood, White Chalk is a purified splash of heroism as robust and meaningful as a born again baptism in the untainted waters of sublime righteousness.
“When Under Ether”