A girl? In a band?
Who, as well as being able to play guitar, sing and write songs all by herself, is comfortable enough with her sexuality to use it as a manipulative tool (just like male singers since Elvis have) and not feel cheap, whaaat? Somebody, call the pedestal-makers. We got us a role model!
Astonishing isn’t it, that in 2006, with girls in bands both good and bad all over the place, the likes of Karen 0 are still being dubbed "female icons”.
Must we really patronisingly elevate every maker of a great record who doesn't have a penis to such a status? Can they not just be “icons”? Are we not done with all this? We certainly should be, and one of the reasons why is Polly Jean Harvey who - pussy or no pussy - was without question one of the most consistently innovative, entrancing and brilliant musicians of the '90s.
Yes, 'Dry', her debut (as a band -only later would she use PJ Harvey as a solo identity) and finest album, from 1992, is stuffed with such empowering couplets as, ”/'m gonna wash that man right outta my hair/l'm gonna take my hips to someone who cares" (from headturning second single 'Sheela-Na-Gig’) But what did this - a singer smart enough to use the press, singing (as all the best ones do) with an at times uncomfortable honesty about stuff that matters to her - give us? It gave us the 'riot grrrl' movement, a bunch of largely appalling bands who thought it was enough as girls to appropriate their (massively reluctant) new figurehead's attitude without even trying to absorb any semblance of her talent.
The result? An easy justification for male sniggering and the girls, depressingly, back to square one.
So forget all that femme-rock nonsense and just listen. Listen to the noise-blues of 'Oh My Lover', a sign of Polly's childhood spent in Dorset absorbing her parents’ Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker records; listen to first-ever single 'Dress"s thrilling Stooges stomp; listen to the astonishing vocal (and 6/4 time signature, musos!) of 'Happy And Bleeding' and the unsettling, cello-assisted ‘Plants And Rags' (“Ease myself into a body bag”). And then consider how staggering it is, with a budget of under £5,000 and no producer, that 'Dry' is such an explosive, diverse and fully realised vision of a debut album.
Certainly, the Polly Jean Harvey who introduced herself to the world with this incredible record was - and still is - unquestionably an inspiration to women. She sings here about girls' stuff: periods, rubbish men and how hard it is to walk in her favourite outfit. But just as with any great album about boys’ stuff, anyone can and will get excited by ‘Dry’, and its to this day unrivalled blend of punk attitude and blues-driven power. In this day and age records shouldn’t be defined by their genitalia: the fire, passion and raw musical brilliance on display here is universal -all you need is a pair of ears and a soul.