100 Greatest Songs of the 90’s #37 PJ Harvey – 50ft Queenie

Released : 1993

We live in a world of manufactured celebrity beefs, but maybe the weirdest of them all is that which veteran new waver Elvis Costello kicked off with Steve Albini, former leader of Big Black amongst others and more famously a non-producing producer. The subject was the latter’s work on PJ Harvey’s second album Rid of Me, which he recently declared made it sound “like shit”. Albini’s response was emphatic, telling Spin “I haven’t done any sort of Pepsi Challenge with other records of the era, but it’s hard for me to think of a better record that came out during that period.”

He was right. At this point PJ Harvey were a trio and Polly Jean was barely out of her teens; writing songs for the follow up to Dry against a background of fractious band tension, Harvey became obsessed with The Pixies, Tom Waits and Howling Wolf. Albini was hired on the basis of his work on Surfer Rosa – which he would later trash – and they relocated to his snowbound Pachyderm studio in Minnesota, finishing the record’s core in just three days.

Pachyderm would very soon host Nirvana for the sessions which unleashed the transformative In Utero, but the girl brought up on a Dorset sheep farm was now channeling Patti Smith, Kathleen Hannah and Ari Up. 50ft Queenie sounded furthermore like Duane Eddy with his dick cut off, a punkabilly jive which threw back all the liquor soaked bravado of toxic masculinity “You can bend over/Cassanova”, foot down on the accelerator as the edge of the canyon beckoned.

Almost thirty years later Costello still wanted to have a fight about it. But who wants to take on a woman who can kerb stomp you without breaking their stride?

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