Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 4/23/09.
Following the release of 1998's Is This Desire?, PJ Harvey went on a brief tour before taking a break from recording. After a year of traveling and exploring places, notably New York City which she was enamored by. For her next album, Harvey decided to make a record that was more melodic than previous albums as she turned to Bad Seeds multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey (no relation) and her old drummer from her early 90s trio in Rob Ellis. The result wouldn't just be one of her most commercially successful records but also one of her crowning achievements with Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.
Written by PJ Harvey with production and performance by Harvey, Mick Harvey, and Rob Ellis, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea is an album filled with light-hearted songs about New York City, love, heartbreak, and various other themes. With a guest appearance from Radiohead's Thom Yorke on a few tracks, the album is more based on guitars, bass, and drums with some keyboard accompaniments as the experimentation of past albums give way for something more accessible and melodic. The result is a winning, joyful album from PJ Harvey.
Opening the album is Big Exit is an upbeat, jangly song with washy, electric guitar riffs with Rob Ellis' bouncy, bass-thumping beats. With PJ Harvey's wailing vocals and powerful lyrics about moving forward as it's a song that is simple yet rich in its production and performance. Even in its chorus with Harvey delving into a falsetto vocal style with her wailing vocal. The first single Good Fortune is another upbeat, dreamy song with washy riffs and Ellis' thumping beats with Harvey's smooth, playful vocals with lyrics about falling in love and walking around in New York City. With just a driving guitar, simple rhythm, and Harvey's wailing vocals, it's one of her best singles. The second single is the dreamy ballad A Place Called Home with PJ Harvey singing in somber, raspy vocal with a fast, flourishing acoustic guitar. With Mick Harvey's soothing performance on the keyboards, harmonium, and piano, it's PJ Harvey's vocals and melancholic lyrics that shape the song with it a simple, thumping rhythm in the background.
One Line which includes Thom Yorke on keyboards and additional vocals, is a mid-tempo track with swift, driving guitar riffs from Harvey as she sings in a raspy, vocal style with dark, dream-like lyrics. With Yorke's eerie vocal and keyboard accompaniment to the song's bouncy, mid-tempo rhythm, it's a song that has Harvey singing in a smooth presentation. Beautiful Feeling is a dark, hollow ballad with Harvey playing a droning, melodic guitar track with her quiet vocals as she's joined by Yorke on accompanying vocals. With her creepy yet sad lyrics, it's a song revels in its atmosphere that is carried by Yorke's unique vocal accompaniment. The Whores Hustle And The Hustlers Whore is an upbeat, washy tune with jangly riffs and pounding beats that features some great arrangements by Mick Harvey. With PJ Harvey's eerie, bluesy vocals with dark, imagery-laden lyrics, it's a song that revels in the dirtiness of New York City with its mid-tempo, guitar-driven presentation.
The Mess We're In is a duet with Thom Yorke with washy, bouncy guitar riffs with mid-tempo rhythms from Rob Ellis' drum taps and Mick Harvey's smooth piano accompaniment. With Yorke singing PJ Harvey's lyrics filled with dark, despaired lyrics, his soothing, dreamy vocals and Harvey's own calm vocal work in the chorus as it's a wonderful track that is rich in its production and arrangements. You Said Something is a ballad led by Harvey playing a melodic keyboard track with washy guitars and simple, bouncy rhythm. With Harvey's calm, engaging vocals with lyrics describing NYC, it's a wonderful track that plays to its simplicity as well as it's dream-like tone. Kamikaze is an upbeat, blues-grinding track with chugging guitar riffs and soft, rollicking beats as Harvey sings in a wailing, bluesy vocal with angry, assaultive lyrics that's a return of sorts to her early work.
The third single This Is Love is a growling, upbeat blues-rock number with charging riffs and thumping beats with Harvey's loud, wailing vocals filled with angry lyrics. Harvey's driving, melodic-flourishing guitar and vocals filled with lots of attitude with Mick Harvey's accompanying keyboard is a song that is a mix of punk, blues, and indie as it's one of her best singles. Horses In My Dreams is an acoustic ballad with dream-like guitar flourishes and atmospheric production that plays to Harvey's somber, raspy vocals with esoteric, imagery-laden lyrics. With Mick Harvey's accompanying piano with a simple banjo accompaniment, it's another ballad that shows PJ Harvey's unique range as a performer and vocalist.
The album closer We Float is a bouncy cut with dance-like rhythms and Mick Harvey's melodic piano track to accompany PJ Harvey's raspy, soothing vocals. With Harvey's desperate, dream-like lyrics, it's a dark closer that plays well to the album with a different arrangement in the middle song that gives it a sweeping feel. Serving as a bonus track from the U.K. and Japanese version of the album is This Wicked Tongue. With its growling, charging guitars and Harvey's hollow, wailing vocal filled with dark, sneering lyrics. It features Rob Ellis' bass-pounding accompaniments as it becomes this upbeat, bouncy track with melodic guitar flourishes as Harvey sings in her angry, growling vocal style to close the entire record.
Released in the fall of 2000, the album started off slowly yet hung around the charts for more than a year as it later became an unexpected hit. Thanks to wide-spread critical acclaim and Harvey's devoted audience, the album helped raise her profile as she felt more comfortable with the attention this time around. In 2001, Harvey was awarded the prestigious Mercury prize while gaining several nominations. The album itself would later be hailed as one of the best records ever made by a female artist as her career was now flourishing at this point.
Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea is a spectacular masterpiece from PJ Harvey that is filled with upbeat, dreamy songs. With top-notch production and contributions from Mick Harvey, Rob Ellis, and Thom Yorke, it's a record that is accessible yet filled with songs that harkens back to Harvey's earlier work. While it doesn't have the abrasive tone of Rid of Me nor the adventurous side of To Bring You My Love, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea is a fantastic, winning album from PJ Harvey.
PJ Harvey Reviews: Dry - Rid of Me - 4-Track Demos - To Bring You My Love - Dance Hall at Louse Point (w/ John Parish) - Is This Desire? - Uh Huh Her - The Peel Sessions 1991-2004 - White Chalk - A Man A Woman Walked By (w/ John Parish) - Let England Shake
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