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.
on 4 August 2006
I'm too lazy to bother reviewing many albums here but I had to make an exception for this one. Why? Because it's one of the greatest rock albums I've ever heard and I want new people to know just how good PJ Harvey really is.
Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea is a masterpiece from start to finish. PJ outdoes herself on raw, fiery, hard-rocking guitar cuts like Big Exit, This Is Love, Kamikaze, The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore and the brilliant bonus track This Wicked Tongue. The spectacular opening song Big Exit speeds past on blazing, careening power chords and powerhouse drumming courtesy of master percussionist Rob Ellis. Good Fortune and One Line both have a dizzying romanticism and surging energy that make them similarly irresistible. And listen out for the quaking monster riff that opens This Is Love as PJ lustily declares, "I can't believe life's so complex when I just wanna sit here and watch you undress" - it manages to be an electrifying, deliciously sexy hard-rock song and witty, tongue-in-cheek fun at the same time. These songs see PJ Harvey revisiting the punky, bluesy power-trio days of her early albums Dry and Rid of Me, and they reveal her oft-cited influence of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and other classic 70s rock. It's not all bluster and noise though. Gorgeous songs like A Place Called Home, You Said Something, We Float and the heartbreaking Thom Yorke duet This Mess We're In will surprise you with their sparkling melodies and a cleaner production than previous PJ Harvey records. There are also two minimalist, stripped-down acoustic numbers - Beautiful Feeling and Horses in My Dreams - that bring a nicely eerie atmospheric touch to proceedings, nestled in amongst the louder tracks.
The whole album is brilliantly sequenced so that it feels like a loosely conceptual song cycle about a person arriving in a big scary city (Big Exit), finding an exciting but dangerous love (the Bonnie and Clyde references of Good Fortune), then enduring romantic heartache (This Mess We're In) and angry turmoil (Kamikaze) before fading out on a promise to "Take life as it comes" (in We Float). But a few minutes after We Float has reached its dreamy, hopeful end, the head-banging bonus track This Wicked Tongue unexpectedly charges in to bring the record to its bitter, explosive, hardcore finish.
PJ Harvey is a unique, genius-level talent and Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea shows her off at her peak: her voice is brilliantly expressive, her lyrics are unusually poetic, and her guitar playing has a ringing dynamic clarity. She simply has a rare brand of emotional intensity and pure passion that cannot be faked.
I strongly urge all you readers to buy this album now - you will NOT be disappointed!
on 6 August 2005
Following an unfortunate incident when an idiot ran me off the road a month or so back, the trusty Micra had to go into the garage and, consequently, I had to remove the hundred or so CDs which had accumulated there (this was less because I feared that sticky fingered mechanics would be unable to resist the temptation to pinch a pile of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan cds and more in case they stood on the cases scattered in the passenger side foot well).
The result of this is that now I have my car back the only CDs as yet available are those in the little rack thing hooked round the driver's sun visor, which I had forgotten all about. And the only thing worth listening to in there (even though I put every CD there at some point) is PJ Harvey's album 'Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea', which I had always dismissed as being a bit too straight up and down rocky to be a good PJH LP.
However, given the choice of listening to 'not at her best' PJ Harvey or, to take a random example of the other CDs available, a Graham Nash live bootleg from 1993, well I've had PJH on the car CD player pretty much constantly for the past week or so.
And it's a truly great album - possibly her very best which really is saying something. From the exultant semi-shout "I'm immortal when I'm with you" in album opener 'Big Exit' to the haunting refrain on the second from last track, 'We Float' ("We float/Take life as it comes"), this is a confident album from an artist at the top of her game.
Where once she asked 'Is this Desire?', now she states 'This is Love'. Which is a pointer to the fact that this is a much happier album than we're used to from Polly Jean. Not that it's exactly the Crazy Frog tune or anything, but it's a long way from 'Plants and Rags' on her first album ("Plants and rags/Ease myself into a bodybag") to this album's 'Beautiful Feeling' ("A smile from San Diego/He's still a boy/Two ends to every rainbow/And a train from Mexico"). 'Good Fortune' continues the positive vibe and even the Thom Yorke duet, 'This Mess we're In", manages to be less than morose (although not a patch on Yorke's earlier duets with Drugstore or Bjork).
For old time fans, the spiky guitar and the confrontation is still there, though - any album with a track called 'The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore' isn't likely to crack the core pre-teen market - but there's a happiness behind it which too often seemed missing in her earlier work. Even the tracks which ostensibly sound like they could be expected to be on the negative or sleazy side often turn out to carry you along on an upbeat guitar line or an unexpected Polly Jean wail (see especially the ending of 'the Whores Hustle' for a wonderful example of Ms Harvey's Yma Sumac-like vocals).
And then, just when you think that the old evil Polly is gone, along comes 'This Wicked Tongue Says', a barely produced burst of pure invective, as Polly curses everyone over almost, but not quite, out of control guitar. This is a track that could fit onto 'Dry' without a problem.
Stand out track for me in an album full of potentials, though, is 'Kamikaze', which is so good that I'm banned from playing it in the car when there's anyone else present, lest I take my hands off the wheel to play the drum rolls on the steering wheel and end up involved in a road traffic incident.
Which is where we came in...
on 25 June 2001
It seemed unlikely that Polly Harvey would ever top the majestic blues of her 1995 album TO BRING YOU MY LOVE or the ambient sensuality of its 1998 follow-up IS THIS DESIRE? But against the odds, Polly has managed to do just that. Her sixth solo album STORIES FROM THE CITY, STORIES FROM THE SEA is not only the best work she has ever done, but some of the best work done by anyone in a long, long time. Partly written during a six-month sojourn in New York City, STORIES... marks an exhilarating return to more straightforward rock'n'roll territory. Typically for a PJ Harvey record, these new songs are brimming with an explosive passion and rampant intensity no other artist could muster. But there's something refreshingly new and different about these STORIES... In a nutshell, they are far simpler, more accessible and, well, happier than her previous outings. This album sees Polly displaying a voracious, exuberant lust for life not heard before. The overriding feelings are ones of romance, adventure, new beginnings and a radiant, hard-won inner peace. Those who argue that Harvey has "sold out" with this new and unapologetically happier music have nothing much to support their case. Her positive sentiments and romantic valentines are backed by her strongest musical efforts to date. Harvey's new-found love of pop melody means that the album is almost entirely based around simple, energetic hooks and crystalline, ringing electric guitars. The refreshingly direct, stripped-down sound perfectly compliments her most openly personal lyrics to date. There are many towering highlights on STORIES... The first single, "Good Fortune", is a violently happy love song with a uniquely infectious chorus, easily one of the greatest songs Polly has ever written. "This Mess We're In" is an achingly pretty, sensual duet with Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, and "We Float" is an exquisite, dreamy ballad with an unlikely chorus of "Take life as it comes". Sublime. On STORIES FROM THE CITY, STORIES FROM THE SEA, Polly Jean Harvey sounds startlingly lusty and reinvigorated. The result is her finest record to date, as well as, of course, her most commercially accessible and radio-friendly. It's no surprise that the album has already sold a substantial 3 million copies worldwide, and that U2 chose Harvey as the opening act for the US branch of their current Elevation tour. But it is very heartening to see Polly Harvey get the chance she deserves at full-fledged pop stardom, rather than merely getting recognition on the fringes of cult acclaim. A brilliant album.
After the comparatively low-key "Is This Desire?" and "To Bring You My Love" Polly Harvey has returned to the sound of "Rid of Me" and "Dry" with devsatating effect. This is her strongest set of songs for years and she sounds more confident than ever.
The songs were written in New York and Dorset and are consistently strong. This time around there are no dabblings with tape effects such as the slowed-down "Katherine" which appeared on "Is This Desire?", instead the songs are straighter than ever, mainly up-tempo, always good.
Thom Yorke appears on three tracks (backing vocals on two, and lead vocals on the stunning "This Mess We're In") which is rather appropriate as this has just replaced Radiohead's "Kid A" as my current favourite album of the year. Excellent stuff from start to finish. If you're already a fan you'll love this; if you're not it might just convert you.
on 27 May 2006
The Mercury music prize winning album "Stories From The City,Stories From The Sea" is one of the best progressive rock albums since i can remember now i have to say my rock knowledge isn't the greatest but i know enough to know that this is a classic.PJ Harvey in the early 90's followed the footsteps of Marianne Faithfull & Patti Smith and brought the feminist image and told the world that women can do rock too!
It starts off with the rather up-beat jingley "Big Exit" probably about paranoia on some level it's one of my favourite PJ songs so far and she sings it with such raw passion.
"Good Fortune" which was one of the singles lifted from the album is one of the most commercial sounding songs of her career it's a good song although not as good as the rest "A Place Called Home" which is my favourite on the album it's such an enchanting song in a dark sorta way, her voice is very raspy on this one and thats one reason why i love it so, again a more commercial sound from her usual underground style.
"One Line" & Beautiful Feeling" are more mellower tracks the latter a nice chilled out love song which keeps at the same tempo all the way through as opposed to "One Line" where it picks up and gets quite hard but still keeping a still mellow vibe.
One of the highlights is the duet with Thom Yorke of Radiohead on "The Mess We're In" a utter masterpiece they both sound fantastic together i think PJ sounds really beautiful on this one.
"This Is Love" is a cool jumpy rock song reminds me of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (PJ is probably one of Karen O's inspirations)
and enjoyable song the only song that dosnt grab me and i that i never really listen to is "Kamikaze" is has a rhythm and blues undertone which i was surprised at but even still a song i can't seem to like.
The 6 minute closer is a true highlight "We Float" could be well a truly be a masterpiece in it's own right a throughly enjoyed every minute of this one
1.A Place Called Home
3.The Mess We're In
PJ is just like all of the great women of rock throughout the world shes an utter legend in her own right bringing back female rock that sorta disappeared for a while in the 80's (although some kept it alive Tina Turner,KD Lang...etc)and revived come 1992
"Stories From The City,Stories From The Sea" is in my top 25 rock albums where it damn well should be
Despite lukewarm critical reviews, I warmed to this album. I have not stopped playing it since getting it last December. I had forgotten how great PJ Harvey is...
This is one of those albums that you just end up playing all the time. It is also a return to form, after the slightly patchy 'Is This Desire?'(which is hard work to listen to. Tho' any record that features 'The Sky Lit Up' can't be anywhere close to average).
The early sound of 'Dry' & 'Rid of Me' is recalled on tracks such as 'Big Exit', 'Kamikaze' & 'This Wicked Tongue'. Though sonically this is much better- with the return of Rob Ellis & Birthday Party/Bad Seed/ awesome musician, Mick Harvey.
'Horses in My Dreams' evokes Patti Smith, imagine a blend of 'Birdland' & early tracks like 'Hair'& the demo of 'Legs'. 'The Whores Hustle...' is closer to the sound of 'To Bring You My Love'; while 'You Said Something' sounds like that album's 'The Dancer' backed by REM (not far from the 3rd Liz Phair album).
'Good Fortune' is the catchy signature tune of the album: "talking about time travel & the meaning of it all". The follow-up singles, 'A Place Called Home' & 'This is Love' both possess moments where they just turn into something transcendent. Polly Harvey is one of those fantastic vocalists- her blues are worlds...
Thom Yorke pops up on a few tracks, he is in the background for the morose ballads 'One Line' & 'Beautiful Feeling' (the latter close to 'Is This Desire?' & 'Hardly Wait'). Yorke's duet with Polly is great- better than her duets with Bjork, Nick Cave & Tricky (tho' possibly not Mark Linkous). The key track- & best song of this century so far- is 'We Float'. This song takes Polly's water-obssession to previously uncharted Jungian depths (see 'Water', 'Ectasy','Down By The Water', 'Angelene'). It is notable 'Dry' collaborater Head returns to work on this track. It sounds like an excerpt from a soundtrack- with Polly encapsulating existence as she knows it over the top. She sounds great with just a guitar; she sounds greater with the massive background to 'We Float'. The lyrics are fantastic, definite & unsure- capturing the philosphy of the future in a manner close to Samuel Beckett: "I can't go on. Go on": "This is kind of about you/This is Kind of about me...But one day we'll float/Take Life as it Comes"...
This is true soul music. Great also to see the continued presence of photographer Maria Mochnacz. The only question now is where for PJ Harvey next? (she was rather splendid in Hal Hartley's 'The Book of Life'). Until then, we'll float..................................
on 16 August 2010
If you're new to PJ Harvey then this is the perfect albumn to start off with. Its the most accessable by far of all her albumns, which is not meant either as a praise nor as a negative.
This albumn is often described as more pop then her others, which is somewhat true but should not be a put off for any of the more heavy fans. And anyway it's Polly Jean Harvey, you cant exactly get further away from pop!
For any Thom Yorke fans 'This mess we're in' has Thom singing lead whilst Polly sings and voices over in perfect biting harmony. And thom is also featured both with back up vocals and piano peices in both 'One Line' and 'Beautiful Feeling.'
'This is Love' will probably be one of the ones you've heard before as one of Harvey's more famous works, but this is no means the only standout of the albumn. If im being truly honest i would say that not a single song on this album is redundant.
Polly jean shows she hasnt lost that raw, animalistic edge in such songs like 'this wicked tongue' 'big exit' 'kamikaze' 'this is love' these prove just how perfect polly and a guitar is together. and with peircing lyrics expressed with polly's insane range of chilling highs and just pure awesome lows.
For those who like it softer, but no less great, listen to 'One Line' 'We Float' 'Good furtune'
This is a perfect start point to journey into the depths of polly jean. I say to Rolling Stone who said "the best album of her career" hell no PJ Harvey has a load more to offer, so check out her other albumns; 'Is This Desire?' and 'White Chalk' Trust me you will not be dissapointed. As PJ Harvey says herself she wanted something of 'absolute beauty. I want this album to sing and fly and be full of reverb and lush layers of melody.' -She got it right.
on 20 December 2001
I bought this album on a whim and I've seen nothing more than 30 seconds of her work previously in a live video. Wow, let me at the back catalogue because this lady has got talent. Luscious blues, bewitching melodies, gutsy growling guitars. In one moment you feel your heart being crushed with sorrow and angst, and the next moment you want to start trashing the furniture as the energy from the music pumps you up. The ballad with Thom Yorke (Radiohead fame) is delicious. This is an outstanding album that must not be played with the volume down! Enjoy it.
PJ Harvey has never been exactly accessible as an artist; you can see why Nick Cave would find her attractive, really (or, indeed, anyone else), but the Mercury Award-winning Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea is Harvey at her most easily listenable. It's also her masterpiece.
'Big Exit' opens things on fine form; led by a chiming line played on about five instruments at once, Harvey hollers away of the top of it as she usually does, singing about the immortality of love. 'This Is Love' features a deliciously chunky guitar riff and 'The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore' sounds exactly how you'd expect it to. Best of all is 'This Mess We're In,' which features Radiohead singer Thom Yorke. I'm not sure if anyone else could have got Yorke to sing the lyrics he does on this song, and their duelling vocals really make the track, if not the album as a whole.
This could equally be a great starting point or ending point for someone looking to get into PJ Harvey. The least scary of her albums, it's a fine entry into her music; probably her best work, it's also the perfect way to complete your collection.