Thursday, January 07, 2021

PJ Harvey - Is This Desire? - Part ii

PJ Harvey announces a vinyl reissue of her 1998 album Is This Desire? which will be making its way into record stores on January 29th 2020. Compared to Harveys previous works such as Bring You My Love, which followed a more typical alternative rock blueprint, Is This Desire? takes apart all the typical conventions of a popular album and redefines the musician’s eclectic style.

Throughout, PJ’s momentous voice provides the listener with a turbulent swarm of whispers and shouts, collating a tapestry of songs that all seem to have one thing in common: women. 

The album kicks off with Angelene, a simultaneously heavy yet mellow musical composition that elevates PJ’s downtrodden vocals. A complex narrative is formed, seemingly about an unfortunate woman who wistfully brands herself as ‘the prettiest mess you’ll ever see’. This simplistic mix of lyrics and melody isolates Harvey’s voice making the story that she tells more vulnerable - without a musical cloak to hide the characters insecurities. An intimacy is formed behind her words that makes this track hypnotically sad to listen to. 

The Wind is by far the most unique song of this collection, distinguished by a collation of raspy whispers and soprano melodies that layer over one another. Again, the track follows a female narrative - this time it's about Catherine, who enjoys “high places” and “children's voices”. It's not clear exactly what Harvey is trying to say in this song, but nevertheless, PJ wholeheartedly embodies these characters, with each tune drastically different to the next. Is This Desire? is definitely an album that keeps you on your toes. 

Another notable mention on the album is track five, A Perfect Day Elise, the most chart worthy song out of the bunch. PJ took a lot of inspiration from short stories written by Flannery O’Connor and J.D. Sallinger when producing music, this particular one taking inspiration from Sallinger’s “A perfect day for Banana Fish”. The vocals have an air of lust, maintaining the persistent theme of desire and heavy guitar riffs layer vocals that are both dark and seductive. Lyrically and musically this is far more self-proclaiming then the more sombre Angeline and Electric Light. You wouldn’t want to mess with this girl. 

The album concludes with Is This Desire?, arguably the most simple song of the album. It functions as a calming conclusion to the storm of different vocals and riffs that we have been subjected to prior. A story forms about a couple, Dawn and Joe, featuring just a guitar and some muted acoustics. PJ’s voice is rather tepid compared to other tracks as she toys with ideas of sensuality and the meaning of love, to which there is no answer.

Each track on Is This Desire? seems to convey one of three moods: loneliness, rage or seduction. It is unclear as to whether this is a personal reflection or these are simply characters that PJ has created and exteriorized through disparate musical forms. It is easy to see why this album had varying reviews for each song is very much isolated by its own musical composition and mood. A eulogy of female stories, this album was a risky venture but only in the opinion of listeners that do not appreciate the incredible artistry and feeling that went into making it. 

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