I think IS THIS DESIRE? ranks as one of PJ Harvey's most essential recordings, and is certainly her most underrated achievement to date. Upon its release in September 1998, some critics were oddly disappointed by the record, unfairly dismissing it as a letdown after the duly appreciated brilliance of her 1995 classic TO BRING YOU MY LOVE. IS THIS DESIRE? represents a significant progression for Harvey, who here expands beyond her previous punk-blues stylings to incorporate elements of ambient, industrial and drum'n'bass into the mix. With the help of producer Flood, she's crafted a set heavy on studio-based atmospheres and soundscapes, using distorted basslines, textured keyboards and layers of thick electronic static to tell her tales. The largely third-person narratives are full of pastoral imagery, Christian symbolism and invariably doomed, haunted female characters with names like Angelene, Leah and Elise. Her lyrical experiments on this album clearly owe more debt of inspiration to modern literature by JD Salinger and Flannery O'Connor (both directly quoted) than any of her rock contemporaries. Some listeners find IS THIS DESIRE? to be an unnervingly bleak, grim experience, and indeed there are moments of horror ("My Beautiful Leah", "Joy") which reflect Harvey's unhappy personal state at the time of writing. There are references to torture, nightmares, suicide and eternal damnation. But many critics overlooked the delicate beauty of piano-driven ballads like "The Garden" or "The River". All in all, IS THIS DESIRE? stands as a brave, adventurous musical statement from a great artist. Its strange, complex beauties will no doubt be better appreciated and understood with age. Highly recommended.