This is Desire

P.J . Harvey - Is This Desire?
(Island Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)

By Tony Bonyata

Ever since she stormed on the music scene six years ago P.J. Harvey has been not only the media's darling, but the reigning femme fatale of the alternative rock world. And for good reason.
Her first two albums Dry and Rid Of Me ( the latter produced by Chicago punkmeister Steve Albini) were masterpieces of brutal, angst-ridden rock drenched in both sexuality and spirituality. With her beautifully raw voice and awe-inspiring guitars along with an attacking rhythm section, this women who grew up on a sheep farm in the south of England, proved that she could chisel out a brand of rock as creative and dynamic as any Anglo-male around.
Her 1995 million selling breakthrough album To Bring You My Love was a departure from her previous efforts in the fact that she, for the first time since her recording career, changed bandmembers. While the album lost some of the urgency that the PJ Harvey Trio possessed, it reflected what was musically influencing her at the time - early American blues. Without actually playing the blues, Harvey successfully sucked the soul from these Southern masters and channeled it into her own music through bone-chilling vocals and stark, yet creative, arrangements.
Now Polly Jean hands us a decidedly gentler, although at times darker, collection of songs that are still steeped in feminine sensuality on Is This Desire?.
Harvey trades in her thrashing guitar in favor of an ominous, glass-threatening bass that throbs throughout the album. Shying away from the seething alt-rock of her past, she forges ahead adding modern touches of tranquilized techno ("My Beautiful Leah"), drum-and-bass ("The Garden") and lilting hip-hop rhythms ("The Wind") to the album.
Vocally she has never sounded stronger. With a seducing voice that goes from breathy want to orgasmic screaming on "The Sky Lit Up" she revisits her love of the senses. She duets with herself on "The Wind" alternating husky whispers with airy, angelic singing, and jumps from gentle melancholy vocals on the haunting number "The River" to possessed, muffled screaming on the pounding rocker "No Girl So Sweet".
Cool, moody, atmospheric and sensual. You better believe this is desire.

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