“I can’t believe that life’s so complex/When I just want to sit here and watch you undress,” Polly Jean Harvey sang a few years back on “This Is Love,” the best song on the best album of her career, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea. After spending most of the Nineties as a mysterious, cult-building heroine, she found something like happiness on Stories. Now, after four years and a queen-size dose of bad love (or so it seems, despite Harvey’s claims that her songs aren’t strictly autobiographical), we find the English farm girl in blues-poet mode once again. On Uh Huh Her, she evokes disturbed, historically significant females such as Clytemnestra, Emily Dickinson and Polly Jean Harvey.
Harvey doesn’t brandish many new moves here. Raw, riff-heavy numbers such as “Who the Fuck?” and “The Letter” revisit her more punkish early days, and “It’s You” and the delicately atmospheric “You Come Through” recall the slow-burning metaphysical turn she took with 1995’s To Bring You My Love. But having reaffirmed her DIY instincts (Harvey produced the album and played everything except drums), she packed Uh Huh Her with moments of austere beauty, straight-ahead melancholia and more tenderness than ever. She compares a lover’s words to poison (“The Life and Death of Mr. Badmouth”), imagines good times (“You Come Through”) and brandishes a knife to thwart off marriage (the magnificently creepy “The Pocket Knife”). On the murky, resigned closer “The Darker Days of Me and Him,” Harvey dreams of a land with “no neurosis/No psychosis/No psychoanalysis/And no sadness.” But darkness is still Harvey’s métier, and she can dive into personal dramas that would make lesser talents sound silly.