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.