White Chalk

Something's inside me/Unborn and unblessed — so, what might that be, Polly Jean Harvey? If you think she's giving a secret like that away, you haven't been listening to her long. On her smashingly creepy White Chalk, she takes to the piano, an instrument she'd never learned to play before. Yet it's stronger and more assertive than 2004's Uh Huh Her, drenched in that Hammer-studios feeling of cloistered Victorian gloom, as if Harvey's a hysteric singing herself to sleep in the attic. The songs aren't knockouts, avoiding the big choruses she does so well. But they have a cold pastoral kind of chill, as Harvey howls about being possessed by demon lovers and ghosts in "The Devil" and "The Piano." In the great "White Chalk," she wanders the hills of her Dorset, England, home where her ancestors are buried, writing their story on her feet as she walks. Harvey ends the song moaning, "Scratch my palms/There's blood on my hands" — and it sounds like the piano keys have turned into skeleton bones.