Top positive review
44 people found this helpful
on 14 February 2004
First of all, the New York influence and Patti Smith comparison has been much overstated by now; PJ Harvey has repeatedly said that Smith has never musically inspired her and that the vocal likeness is coincidental. That out of the way, I must now heartily endorse Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea – a truly great rock album and one of my personal favourites of all time.
This LP marks a major musical progression for Ms. Harvey. Like her early albums, these songs are built around the three-piece band dynamic of guitar, drums and bass; but this time around she adds lush layers of melody and reverb by bringing subtle shades of keyboard, E-Bow, accordion and harpsichord into the mix. The resulting sound is rich, graceful, tuneful and quite unlike anything she’s done before.
Big Exit kicks off the album in glorious, psychedelic, hard-rocking style. It opens with a wall of bellowing loudspeaker vocals, clattering Led Zeppelin drums and staccato electric guitars before melting into a swooning chorus of “Baby baby ain’t it true/I’m immortal when I’m with you”. The second song Good Fortune is a joyous, romantic, violent Bonnie and Clyde fantasy in which she dreams of going on the run and living a dangerous gypsy existence with her lover. It soon becomes clear that she is celebrating a new type of romantic love and positive energy on this record. Having covered darker territory throughout her career, she enjoys playing with Beatlesque guitar pop and delicate orchestration on songs like A Place Called Home, One Line, This Mess We’re In and the ethereal closer We Float. These are soaring, poignant songs of hurt and hope. Beautiful Feeling and Horses in My Dreams are unplugged ballads of raw, stark beauty. In contrast, at least five songs (Big Exit, The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore, Kamikaze, This Is Love and bonus track This Wicked Tongue) are as tough, fierce and hard-rocking as anything off Dry or Rid of Me.
Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea won the Mercury Music Prize, two Grammy nominations, two BRIT nominations, appeared on numerous album-of-the-year polls and prompted Q magazine to vote PJ Harvey the greatest female rock star of all time. For all the critical praise, it met an unusual reaction from some longtime fans. Grumpy doom-and-gloom miserabilists who favoured her darker early work seemed to cynically begrudge Harvey her new-found happiness on this record, and indie snobs felt put out that their “dirty little secret” was now being enjoyed by a wider audience. This has happened to every great rock act who has dared to edge from underground cult worship to mainstream success, from Pixies and Sonic Youth to White Stripes or Queens of the Stone Age. She certainly hasn’t gone soft by any means. The fiery spirit, emotional intensity and musical passion are all still there; the heart beats stronger than ever before.
This magnificent album demands to be heard by as many people as possible.