Is This Desire?
When Polly Jean Harvey burst on the scene, a tiny woman screaming tales of obsession and rage, she took a lot of people by surprise — a foul-mouthed imp fronting an industrial band. Well, the years may have matured her, and quieted the more extreme aspects of her presentation, but the special universe that Harvey has created over the years is still intact. True, there are no acidic anthems along the lines of “Rid Of Me” on her new release Is This Desire?, but the erotic, obsessive heroine of “Down by the Water” hasn’t quieted her pained heart — she’s just packaged it in a more subdued box. Instead of shouting over corrosive guitars, she uses creepy keyboards to build on, which allows the listener a chance to actually understand the words — twisted as they are. Don’t be misled — this isn’t a Lilith Fair demo tape. From the Kraftwerk-style growl of “Joy” to the half-shouted/half-sung agony of “Catherine,” Harvey still walks alone in a dark garden of anguish and pain. Co-producers Flood (U2) and Head, along with Harvey, create sound poems (it sounds great on headphones) that might actually get played on the radio. Disturbing and personal, this is a captivating record by a woman who has something to say, and does so in her own harrowing way. Somehow, her message is stronger and more affecting in a quieter presentation – I wouldn’t want to be her ex. But from a distance, I’ll eavesdrop. Island Records, 825 Eighth Ave., 24th Floor, New York, NY 10019