If there's one thing that Polly Jean Harvey is not, it's conventional. The 38-year old Somerset-born singer, now in her sixteenth year of making music, doesn't need to burn bras or initiate any sort of outlandish protest to be non-conformist, though; for an artist whose reinvented herself as much as Madonna but received a fraction of the kudos for it, Harvey is quietly happy to unearth a different musical persona every few years. From her raw, punk-riddled beginnings on 1992 debut Dry, up to 2001's melodic pop-rock offering Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, there's always been a feeling that you don't know what's around the next corner with the professional weirdo. Still, even the most sceptical of fans wouldn't have expected a sparse, piano-driven album as Harvey's eighth studio offering, especially considering that, as of three years ago, she didn't play piano - but that's exactly what White Chalk is. She's also adopted a higher-pitched singing voice for the first time, a tactic which only serves to increase the intensity and unearthly nature of the songs. The Devil opens proceedings with an almost Supremes/Motown-like jangly piano coda, but don't be fooled - for the most part, White Chalk is a very pure, austere album, whose piano skeleton is fleshed out only occasionally by acoustic guitar, harp and drums (thanks to Dirty Three's Jim White). Harvey's arrangements are better than ever, too, and her newly-learned instrument lends an extra dimension to these songs. Grow Grow Grom is a brilliantly creepy, atmospheric ballad which could soundtrack a night-time misadventure in an abandoned mental asylum quite adeptly; When Under Ether's documents a spaced-out hospital stay; the comparatively-upbeat Silence and poppy, warm The Piano add layers of harmonies and glittering mellotron respectively, while To Talk To You's dark flourishes disturb and beguile in equal measures. White Chalk won't grab you immediately, but when it does grasp you in its pale, bony hands, you'll find it very hard to shirk.