More than 12 years ago PJ Harvey and John Parish released "Dance Hall at Louse Point", and while "A Woman A Man Walked By" constitutes an improvement of sorts, few will be disappointed if their ongoing alliance suffers another hiatus of similar duration.
As before, Parish supplies the musical arrangements and Harvey the words, in that order - a division of labour which sometimes makes for an uncomfortable fit, as with "The Chair", a frantic, piano-led piece about drowning, and "Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen", about playing hide-and-seek, in which the opening banjo strums are bulked out with organ as the search gets more frantic.
Each piece draws a new persona out of her. In the company of her old colleague and confidant, she abandons herself to a diverse collection of vocal personae. On "April", her glottal, nicotine-rough delivery appears to be a homage to that other West Country vocal stylist, Portishead's Beth Gibbons.
For the adolescent hide-and-seek scenario of "Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen", she regresses to a breathless Celtic bawl.
"Pig Will Not", yelled through a megaphone, is built on her cacophonous howls of refusal - "I will not!" - over Parish's threshing drums
They sound like they are having a little more fun on this record, which Harvey has described as a transitional work, produced for kicks but crucial to her ongoing development as a musician. The results are far from throwaway, but there is the sense that "A Woman A Man Walked By" is a lucky bag of styles, tossed together without much thought for the cohesion that usually characterises Harvey's own albums, such as 2000's " Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea", and gives her something to rebel against for her next musical incarnation.
All in all, the results that makes A Woman Man Walks By such fun. From the childlike waltz of "Leaving California", to the cracked lo fi blues of "April", this is an album that challenges and cheers in equal measure.
"Together, Parish and Harvey sound confidently experimental, like two soldiers daring each other to ever more stupendous feats of bravery. Here's hoping this exploration continues to feed back into the work she produces under her own name, and that Parish gets his dues as one of Britain's most resourceful and imaginative studio craftsmen". -Rob Young.
Highlights: "Black Hearted Love", "A Man A Woman Walked By/The Crow Knows Where All The Little Children Go", "Leaving California".
Dance Hall at Louse Point
Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea