Is This Desire?
By: Eric G.
After summoning the devil and beating him back down again in her blues-infused To Bring You My Love album, PJ Harvey has kept a busy schedule while maintaining a relatively low profile. She appeared on the much underrated Dance Hall At Louse album with one of her collaborators, John Parish, but only as a voice (Parish wrote all of the music). Her duet with Nick Cave led to speculation about a possible courtship, but Harvey has yet to respond despite Cave’s blatant references to her in recent songs off his album, The Boatman's Call. Tricky also garnered her talents for a song off his latest, Angels with Dirty Faces, and Hal Hartley convinced her to make her acting debut in his current project entitled The Book of Life, in which she plays Mary Magdalene (due for release in late 1999).
Harvey is the one of the few women in rock that people actually take seriously along with Bjork and, perhaps, on a smaller scale, Kristen Hersh. Courtney Love is obviously a joke with her candy-coated, faux-punk-rock, and fluff like Sarah McLachlan is easy on the ears but hardly engaging. With Harvey you get the blood and guts and the sense that her songs are written from experience. Is This Desire? seethes with a controlled anger. The first notes of “Angelene” are naked and serene, but Harvey is so focused it’s like she’s staring you down with her voice. Harvey presents a bleak portrait with her fourth album. Many of the songs’ inherent beauty is subverted by the ugly sounds she uses to relay her emotions. Over-driven electronics, especially deep throbbing bass tones, pervade the album with a fractured tone. Even the album’s first single, “A Perfect Day Elise”, disguises a catchy hook with rudimentary, noisy effects, but it creates the perfect landscape for her howling voice.
Stylistically, this album is not as specific as To Bring You My Love, which captured a melodramatic, meet at the crossroads style of blues. Instead it seems to mix elements of all of her past work, including the desperate abrasion of the Steve Albini-produced Rid Of Me album. Flood’s production is brittle and stark here. Guitars are practically non-existent. Harvey relies heavily on the resonance of her voice and her character-driven lyrical reticulations. Particular standouts are “The Sky Lit Up”, the beautiful piano-laced “The River”, and the title track. Is This Desire? drives a steak through the heart of all the post-Lilith Fair, new-age-hippie bullshit that currently clogs up the airwaves.