September 30, 1996 12:00 PM

John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey

You can hear her noisy influence whenever Alanis Morissette or Courtney Love sings, but it’s hard to describe what Harvey—the auteur of her U.K. band, PJ Harvey—sounds like. Her voice keeps mutating, even in a single song. “Taut”—from this new album recorded with her longtime bandmate John Parish (who, with one exception, wrote all the music to her lyrics here)—starts with Harvey pleading, “Jesus, save me.” She does so, in a voice that sounds like the little girl talking through the TV set in Poltergeist. Next, Harvey does a perfect vocal impression of fingernails scraping a blackboard. Then she shifts to a mad, strangulated whisper and narrates a little horror story about a road trip with a madman. Elsewhere, Harvey croons love lyrics as sweet as early Joni Mitchell—her “Rope Bridge Crossing” offers a truer metaphor for love than any span in Madison County. Harvey also belts out a macho falsetto on “That Was My Veil” that makes Robert Plant sound like a mewing kitty. Most startling is her cover of “Is That All There Is?” Peggy Lee sang it like a wised-up romantic whose hopes still smolder like a stubbed-out cigarette. Harvey sings it brilliantly, like an alien from icy outer space. Dance Hall can’t match Harvey’s 1995 masterpiece To Bring You My Love, but it confirms her as the one true goddess of alt rock. (Island)

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