PJ Harvey
Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea


4.5
superb

Review

by Ben Thornburgh CONTRIBUTOR (97 Reviews)
March 26th, 2014 | 16 replies | 775 views


Release Date: 2000 | Tracklist

Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 50)

The myth of pre-9/11 New York City being a raw and authentic metropolis oozing with sexuality is probably false. The myth of post-9/11 New York City becoming a spit-shined and polished Disneyland is probably false too. But the definite truth, and definite cliche at this point, is that 9/11 changed everything with a spread unrivaled by any major event in American history. Truly, nothing was the same after that day.

Including Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. Written about PJ’s experiences in New York, much of the album seems to tremor with an eerie foreboding. I mean, the first line of the first song is a yelped “Look out ahead/See danger come.” The album is littered with little lyrics that take on worlds of new meaning in the wake of 9/11. “And the bells keep ringing/And the battle is won/And the planes keep winging/And I'm right on time.” “Can you hear them? The helicopters/I'm in New York/No need for words now.” “I just feel like it’s the end of the world.” Frenetic barnstormer “Kamikaze” is particularly unnerving, with such right on the money lyrics like “How could that happen?/How could that happen again?/Where the *** was I looking/When all his horses came in?” or “Beyond all reason/Beyond all my hopes/The call of duty/Another war zone” or “Eight miles high/He walks his path/And I follow mine/One tooth for one eye/He's come to find me”.

Upon release Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea was overwhelmingly well received but a small contingent of critics disowned the album for forsaking the unstable and wild eyed sound of previous PJ Harvey albums. Indeed Harvey is in a much better place here than previous works and the production, headed by Rob Ellis, is a clean and direct reflection of that. So yeah, there are some songs here with great hooks on em. Hell, a few songs here are even about love. But if you think “Wanna chase you round the table, wanna touch your head” is another typical pop lyric about love you’re clearly from a different dimension. Throughout Stories from the City Harvey sounds drunk off life and talent and simply wants to peel away a bit of the pricklier elements of her sound in order to let more people in.

“Things I once thought/Unbelievable/In my life/Have all taken place” Harvey beams on “Good Fortune”. By all accounts PJ Harvey had an amazing 90s, releasing 4 albums to great acclaim and surprisingly strong sales. Her decision to manifest her happiness in her music is thrilling to listen to. I’m sure she could have released another wild and angry record if she wanted to but instead she decides to project her newfound confidence and wanderlust onto the listener. To listen to Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea is to take wing alongside Harvey and soar with her. “Broke the record, found the gold/Set myself free again,” she sings on “Horses in My Dreams”, “I have pulled myself clear.” The “pulled myself” part is important. Harvey worked for her happiness, for her security, and once she grasped it there was no letting go.

Of course, if Stories from the City was nothing but beaming radiance and positivity, it wouldn’t be very compelling. So we get the tension that comes with wondering when it’s all going to come caving in again. “Beautiful Feeling” is desolately empty. When Harvey sings “But he's the best thing/A beautiful feeling” she means it but with nothing but some guitar and ghostly backing vocals surrounding her it tremors with unsaid emotion. “You Said Something” gives us all the details except the most critical one. “You said something/that I've never forgotten”, Harvey doubles down on the second line, giving it a creeping air of menace.

Despite not being released as a single, “This Mess We’re In” has become the most popular song off of Stories from the City. A lot of this has to do with the presence of a certain singer whose name rhymes with Bomb Porke but it does have an equal amount to do with the fact that it really is just a fantastic song. It tells a tale of two doomed lovers that, like all great stories, it greater for what it doesn't say then what it does say. It takes us, in media res, to the end of the story. As the two (Or perhaps just one) sit in a New York high rise, awaiting their fate.

The overwhelming stress of post-9/11 America sent soccer mom chillout bangers like “Only Time” and “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” rocketing up the charts. If only someone had been around to point these lost souls to Stories from the City closer “We Float” instead we’d be living in a better world right now. It’s verses are typically thorny Harvey but the chorus is just so flat out earnest and corny it’s immediately disarming. It’s message transcends cliche and takes on meaning again, “We float/Take life as it comes”.

PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea won the Mercury Music Prize on September 11, 2001. She was in Washington DC at the time, she took the call with the news of her victory from a hotel room that overlooked the Pentagon. She referred to the whole ordeal as “A very surreal day”. Despite the unshakable metatext Stories from the City now carries with it, it remains a singular document of delirious happiness. It’s the sound of one woman stepping into her full power while being kind enough to let us inside that feeling, if only for a little while.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2014



1472 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Full series: http://holidaykirk.com/
Twitter: @HolidayKirk

New review every Wednesday.

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ZackSh33
March 26th 2014



199 Comments


"She was in New York at the time, she took the call with the news of her victory from a hotel room that overlooked the Pentagon."

Pentagon is in DC not NYC, so this sentence doesn't make sense to me.

Never listened to this album, but it sounds absolutely haunting in the wake of 9/11. Good review, def got me interested.

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2014



1472 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Oops shit. I'll fix that.

YourDarkAffected
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2014



1543 Comments


I've heard the one featuring Thom Yorke and I really dug out. I need to check out the rest of this. Also, great review!

ArsMoriendi
March 26th 2014



1721 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I love PJ Harvey, but I can't say this is one of her 5's. Still a great album.

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YoYoMancuso
March 26th 2014



10099 Comments


so how much Britain stuff are you doing

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2014



1472 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

1988-2013. I don't have a finite number of albums, the list is being generated as I go along.

ArsMoriendi
March 26th 2014



1721 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Have you heard PJ's To Bring You My Love? That's my favorite.

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
March 26th 2014



1472 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

If I'm not mistaken I believe I'm default review for that.

tommygun
March 26th 2014



21345 Comments


nice one kirk

still gotta jam this bird's tunes

ShitsofRain
March 26th 2014



4653 Comments


me too

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VermTheImpaler
March 26th 2014



1360 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

5 this or die, that song with thom yorke is the best thing ever since nintendo 64 and since the invention of the toast bread

klap
Staff Reviewer
March 27th 2014



9981 Comments

Album Rating: 4.4

arguably her best album

Arcade
March 27th 2014



413 Comments


i remember my dad use to have this album and i loved that first single from it. i'll have to buy more PJ Harvey, atm i only own LES which is a corker

Underflow
March 29th 2014



2172 Comments


This is pretty brilliant.

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ArsMoriendi
April 16th 2014



1721 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great album. I love how "Big Exit" is the opener.



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