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PJ Harvey: Still Tough,
But With a New Tenderness

PJ Harvey - Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea
(Island Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Dec. 19, 2000

By Tony Bonyata

In a return to her grittier roots, singer / songwriter / guitarist PJ Harvey has just released her latest album entitled Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea. And even though the urgent sounds from this guitar-driven trio harkens back to her angry young youth - an amalgam of the rage of Patti Smith and angst of Kurt Cobain - these are stories that, for a change, actually seem hopeful.
PJ Harvey While numbers such as the bombastic "Kamikaze," and clenched jaw rocker "The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore," with her jarring, disaffected guitar, sound like bastard offspring from her first two albums - Dry and Rid of Me - Harvey has let down her tough exterior and opened up her heart a bit more for the majority of the album . Leaving her brooding ‘grrrrrl' attitude in the ladies room, Harvey sings of love, dreams and the reality of life as only she could. "I can't believe life is so complex, when I just want to sit here and watch you undress," she admits on "This Is Love," before asking "Do you remember the first kiss? Stars shooting across the sky," on "One Line", both songs alluding to her desire to keep love in it's simplest, uncomplicated form.
The stories that Harvey delivers are split between her hometown of Yeovil, England [the sea] and her recent, lengthy stay in New York [the city]. When she sings "Speak to me of me of heroin and speed. Of genocide and suicide, of syphilis and greed," she paints a knowing picture of the Big Apple's rotten core that only Lou Reed and Patti Smith have been able to accurately translate.
With her band once again stripped down to just a skin-tight three-piece unit, featuring bassist Mick Harvey and longtime drummer Rob Ellis, PJ carefully balances heavy hitting numbers, with rock dynamics of Zeppelin-like proportions, along with songs that both scream and whisper a broad range of emotions. From the proud swagger of "You Said Something" to the doomed-turned-hopeful "We Float" and melancholic desire of "Horses in My Dreams," Harvey seems to be cleansing not only her soul, but her psyche as well.
Also helping out is Radiohead's Thom Yorke who lends his otherworldly vocals to a few tracks. "This Mess We're In" is a beautiful, lilting song written by Harvey specifically for Yorke, while the stark "Beautiful Feeling" works with just Harvey's detached vocals, plaintive electric guitar and Yorke's oozing, ectoplasmic backing vocals. "One day, I know, we'll find a place of hope. Just hold on to me," she cries on "A Place Called Home." With, quite possibly, her strongest album to date, her vision of hope seems to be getting closer all the time. And I'm not about to let go.

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