Top positive review
2 people found this helpful
Under The Skin
on 5 September 2016
Sandwiched between her 1995 'breakthrough’ album To Bring You My Love and her Mercury Prize- winning 2000 album Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, 1998’s Is This Desire? might be viewed as something of a downbeat curiosity if we weren’t versed in Polly Jean Harvey’s unswerving single-mindedness to do her own thing. With the album, gone are the guitar-driven pyrotechnics of earlier days, to be replaced my minimalist whisperings, distorted electro-beats and subtle 'under the skin’ melodies, very sporadically interspersed with bouts of impassioned (but, of course, poetic) ranting. What, however, you rarely, if ever, get with a P J Harvey record, is an uninteresting, unchallenging listen – often a slow-burning one, certainly, and Is This Desire? fits firmly into this category, an album whose reputation builds inexorably with each listen.
Over time I've come to realise that there is virtually not a duff track here. Even the darkly ironic (tongue-in-cheek autobiographical?) dissonance of Joy eventually begins to play on the senses, as do the strident tones and pulsating beats of The Sky Lit Up, My Beautiful Leah and No Girl So Sweet (it’s so easy to see Harvey’s songs as autobiographical, despite her repeated denials). Equally, the minimalist 'sweet nothings’ encapsulated in the likes of The Wind, Catherine, Electric Light and the album’s title song have an increasingly hypnotic effect, whilst at the more 'conventional commercial’ end of the spectrum each of Angelene, A Perfect Day Elise, The Garden and The River impress mightily. Indeed, this latter song matches the quality of To Bring You My Love’s The Dancer and Harvey’s dulcet tones and sublime melody serve to reiterate her position in my mind as the most important female musician since the advent of Patti Smith (a 'comparison’ I know Polly Jean would hate!).