Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Reviews for 'Is this Desire?' by PJ Harvey

I’ve been aware of Polly Harvey for a long time, but not what you would call a ‘fan’. The early indie guitar driven songs were not for me and her vocal style didn’t drag me in. So this album was my first chance to sit down and immerse myself into the Polly Harvey world. Thankfully, the guitar led stuff appears to have been spread out and more of the songs in the collection were rooted in electronica with beats behind simple vocals. Where the guitars turn up those are a hard listen for me. There is no ‘hit single’ amongst these tunes. There are elements of the trip-hop scene from Bristol popping up every now and then, which I did enjoy. The lyrics are mainly brooding questions about the nature of human relationships and the consequences of expressing desire. Best tunes, ’The Wind’, ’The River’ and ‘Is This Desire?’


There is something watery about PJ Harvey's music of this era. Beneath the surface, however, something deadly lurks. If I was looking for a soundtrack to the modern reboot of the adventures of Ulysses, I would use Is This Desire to accompany the scene with the sirens. Undulating, deep baselines, haunting melodies, and the ever present threat of a watery death at the hands of desire, list and greed, Is This Desire is like a Greek tragedy for our modern world.


I love Polly Jean. No really, I mean ‘love’ her. Everything about this angst-ridden raven in the early and mid 1990’s had me smitten... until, that is, the release of this album. A toned down (perceivably depressive) PJ spilt out her guts and I did not like it. No guitar driven ‘Dress’, ‘Sheela Na Gig’ or ‘50 Foot Queenie’ here sadly but pared down keyboard and experimental tunes. I guess ‘Down by the Water’ from the preceding ‘To Bring You My Love’ was a warning sign of the direction future releases could take and here was a new woman clearly articulating some of her life’s issues and problems. That said, she cites this album as her best work. Fortunately, for me at least, the roller coaster of her labours picked up again straight away with the Mercury Prize winning Stories from the City. It is a familiar pattern I’ve often found in Polly’s work; a subsequent nosedive to White Calk before escalating to new heights again with her latter albums. If nothing else she keeps you on your tones this thing of beauty.