Thursday, January 07, 2021

PJ Harvey - Is This Desire? - Part i

Polly Jean Harvey, better known as her musical alias PJ Harvey, is a British Musician from Dorset often hailed as one of the most important female voices in alternative rock. 

When PJ Harvey released her first solo album “To Bring You My Love” in 1995 after years of being in the trio Automatic Dlamini, she was met by critical acclaim and a best-selling album. In years following this success Harvey chose to focus her efforts on collaborations with John Parish and Nick Cave before releasing “Is This Desire?” in 1998. Despite the fact that its first single “A Perfect Day Elise” was widely successful, the album was generally reviewed and understood to be ‘not as good’ as her previous offerings. 

In light of the album getting a vinyl reissue early next year I revisited “Is This Desire?” to see if it was worth getting a copy of the album and whether it really deserved the title of “Worst PJ Harvey Album”. 

Interestingly Harvey is often cited as calling the album one of the best records she has ever made, even going so far as to call it the ‘highlight’ of her career. Whilst this was not a collaboration album, the influences and input of Cave and Parish shine through in the gloomy production and angst-ridden lyricism. 

“Is This Desire?” is at its core an emotionally-loaded reflection on desires and dreams. It is clear to listeners why Harvey has oft stated that she put 100% of herself into the album, it is a deeply personal musical offering and is perhaps one of the best examples of an album telling a story and in doing so, painting a portrait of the tortured artist producing it. Like Shakespeares’ Sonnets Harvey uses the album to pen songs to various different renditions of her lover(s) with songs about Elise, Angelene and Catherine appearing throughout the lyrics creating an ever-moving emotional landscape through which Harvey takes us. 

The album manages to use these characters to create a journey that starts with “Angelene” and ends asking the question “Is This Desire?”. This culmination of story and introspection is at the core of what makes this album great; Harvey manages to write the deeply personal in a way that challenges the listener to introspect. It forces you to think about the pain of desire in the same way she has throughout the album. 

The criticism of self-indulgence I’ve heard about the album feels more to me like a device that forces you into Harvey's world. I can understand why this electronic sample-based, gloomy landscape might feel less comfortable to some than “To Bring You My Love” but I would argue that being comfortable is missing the point of the album. It succeeds in pushing the listener to lose their mind with Harvey and if this is something you feel like you’d like to experience too, I recommend you give it a listen. 

-Dilara Ball

Image: PJ-Harvey.jpg (1024×512) (

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