Approaching your mid-30s, when you can’t kid yourself you’re young any longer but are not quite unequivocally middle-aged, you might be tempted to reassessment and reformulation. In 2004 I was in the process of being very definitely dismantled and reassembled, training to be ordained at St Stephen’s House in Oxford. These were an intense couple of years with an awful lot going on, and I wasn’t much concerned with the world outside that walled ecclesiastical compound between the Cowley and Iffley Roads. I’d begun to wonder whether I’d ever hear any interesting new music again: John Peel’s show had moved inconveniently late in the evening (and by the end of 2004 he would no longer be with us) and, while we had internet access at college, I didn’t do much with it. I was living off my savings and spending them on music wasn’t a priority. I was also trying my best to get my head around the plainchant we had to sing in the college chapel. All in all, I suspect I found out about and then bought Uh Huh Her rather tardily, and then didn’t pay it that much attention.
Had I done so, I would have found Polly Harvey in a similar reflective state. Uh Huh Her is the end of one phase of her musical journey and the beginning of another, mirroring what was going on in her life more generally. It gathers up some of her most characteristic themes and ideas and then points on towards something new. To complement the valedictory air she decorated the sleeve with a selection of self-portrait photos taken over many years, documenting the masks and guises she’d worn in her career to that point. Once the accompanying tour was done, hitting 35, she would put her rock-chick persona back in the dressing-up box and would never bring her out again, fashioning something very different in her place.
Uh Huh Her is another recording I’ve come to reassess relatively recently. Then, it definitely felt as though PJ was marking time, and I didn’t put in the work the album required to appreciate what was happening. It’s too disparate to make the same immediate impact as some of its predecessors, wonderful though some of its tracks are. And, anyway, I was being plunged into a new world myself, and too busy mentally to spare Ms Harvey’s progress a lot of thought.