Review Summary: PJ Harvey's own personal favourite. It's understandable why.
In the opening course of “Angelene”
it’s immediately clear that grunge-girl Polly Jean Harvey’s Is This Desire?
is a much more sombre and remotely driven album than her previous outings. Where she once cruised to the outer reaches of the globe to represent her ideas, she’s retraced her footsteps, and taken the other road in the fork. With Harvey so intertwined within composition, Mark Ellis
(better known as Flood) was given the prosperity to derive a new sound to another ground breaking album from one of the best female artists during the 90s. You’d come to immediately think that perhaps there may be some kind of sign of tension, or confliction between each side of the story here. Thankfully, each appears to embrace the others sound. It’s intimate, clever, dark, scary, solemn and full of emotional layering from both parties.
When it comes down to layering, no one does it better then Flood. Remember his stretch with Trent Reznor on Pretty Hate Machine
and The Downward Spiral
? Later on, the relationship with Harvey during 1995’s To Bring You My Love
was still in its primal infancy, and meant she was still predominantly behind the sound wheel. Here, Flood is perceptibly well within the bounds of contemporary musical existence through his own representation of defining the album’s overall sound. A sound that’s mostly embodied by pungent distorted bass lines, haunting looped drums and other electronic hooks to attempt to draw in the listener. It suggests her most dense release to this point, and at times strikes at the heart of industrial genre itself, despite there being a distinct value of driven dirty rock through her compositional clarity.
Still, the album presents some of her most simplistic and original musical material ever, given that it’s often bordered by opacity in the production. Every instalment yields a similar approach, sombre and thoughtful, but each has its own individual mood. Sometimes her aching voice pulls you in with immense gravity only to be cut short by a sudden fade out as the music filters into empty air, either suddenly, or slowly, depending on how the music initially travelled. The effect can be quite startling the first time around, but becomes part of the experience as future listens take place. Not all songs use this method though, most in fact play apart the idea of creeping in and out of melodic entwinement between varied sounds, such as “The River”
, and “The Garden”
, each using similar methods of syncopated piano lines, passionate ear-close vocals, and reverberating drum loops. Others are close relatives of the more grungy medium witnessed earlier, as in “Joy”
and “The Sky Lit Up”
, the most striking being “A Perfect Day Elise”
The album’s difference from others however would be nothing without the expertise and natural talent of Harvey. Where other individuals (and even groups) often try to dominate their thoughts with propositions of artistic evolution, thus often producing contrived nonsense, Harvey for the most part just kept on doing what made her happy or sad or… whatever. Whether she’s faint or strong, the results are usually promisingly positive, and Is This Desire?
is no exception to this. For some fans it will be their all time favourite from her due to its individuality, for others it will be not as highly cherished as previous albums, mainly because of the confusion between choices of great things that have already passed.