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Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea is probably the closest Polly Jean Harvey ever go to balancing her twin talents of being both unsettling and also turning out eminently accessible, beautiful rock music. And the reason appeared to be that she was simply in love. Or at least lust...
Up until this point albums like To Bring You My Love and Is This Desire? had not only looked at the carnality of craving and love from a somewhat obsessive point of view but had also been mired in a deep bluesly quagmire of noise, distortion and jarring confrontation. Here, produced by the bad Seeds' Mick Harvey as well as longtime cohort Rob Ellis, she openly and deliberately celebrated an affair in swathes of tunefulness and lyrics that were more direct and positive.
This Is Love is the apogee of this newer approach with the lines, "I can't believe life's so complex/When I just wanna sit here and watch you undress... I can't believe that the axis turns on suffering/When you taste so good ". Blimey...
The layers of reverb and lush instrumentation bring out the fact that fans knew all along: that Harvey's abilities included great tunesmithery. Even the cover image of our Polly out for a dressed-up night on the town in New York indicated that she'd moved away from her more dour ruminations on love and suffering and into a more confident era, And the presence of mopey old Thom Yorke on the low-key This Mess We're In couldn't drag down the mood, especially when it contains the line, "Night and day/I dream of making love to you now baby".
This was the dawning of sex kitten-era Polly, and while it never veers completely into commerciality, it won her a far greater audience without compromising her artistic credentials. Quite some trick... --Chris Jones
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