It's far from a perfect album - when Harvey tries to shift the mood from aggressive, she turns in dirges (Hook, which is a tuneless whine on both this album and the subsequent Four Track Demos), lazy cover versions (Highway 61 is given a pointless and melodramatic retread). And the song structure is pretty much the same for every track: quiet intro, sudden dynamic shift (then very fashionable, from The Pixies through Nirvana), Harvey's increasingly impassioned vocal, the drummer going nuts on the cymbals and squealing like a castrato.
Yet it seems important, even nearly twenty-five years after its release.
At the time, Harvey rejected the label 'feminist', even though her lyrics evoked menstruation, sexual dryness, rough sex, the oppression of romance and love (a later song, Kamikaze, took 'love as war' pretty literally), male arrogance and privilege. She even said that she didn't identify as a woman 'half the time', which would have been a great marketing concept last year.
The rawness (finally said it) and her obvious knowledge of rock history (she tended to cover classic blues numbers for b-sides) might have removed Rid of Me from a generic 'female' music (to be clear, I have no idea what that might mean, but it was the kind of stupid shit that rock critics would say in the 1990s, lumping Kim Gordon off Sonic Youth, Belly, riot grrl and Courtney Love into some bizarre 'women of rock' category. Here's an otherwise interesting piece which begins with some weird claim that PJ Harvey opened up stadium angst to female artists).
Track two, Missed does not take up the style though, sounding closer to the previous, debut album. In fact, the first side of the album struggles to cohere. Rid of Me and Rub It are of a piece, but Hook feels like a failed experiment, Mansize Quartet a pose.
The second track, Legs is, by comparison, tedious... then she returns to the template for what is possibly a soundtrack to a sex game or an act of sexual violence. It's where gender - Harvey's complaints to the contrary - becomes critical. Even David Bowie couldn't sing Rub It Until It Bleeds without sounding like a sex criminal.
Then side two happens...