Every new PJ Harvey release comes so laden under the weight of its own importance that it feels like heresy to report that it's merely all right, but that's exactly what this one is.
A Woman a Man Walked By is a follow-up of sorts to 1996's excellent John Parish collaboration Dance Hall at Louse Point, and also to PJ Harvey's own equally excellent 2007 album White Chalk (which Parish produced), but can hold only a flickering candle to either.
The alt-rock guitars of "Black Hearted Love" and "Pig Will Not" hark back to Harvey's early days, whereas "Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen" and "The Soldier" draw upon the English folk tradition. Harvey's vocal style ranges from the helium weirdness first heard on "Legs" to a guttural growl. Her lyrics, only six of which are printed in the booklet for reasons which remain opaque, tend towards the portentous and the accidentally comical: when she wails "I am your guardian, I am your fairy, do my will... woof woof!", it's difficult to suppress a titter.
Pick of the album: Titular terror: 'A Woman a Man Walked By/The Crow...'