In 1998, English rocker PJ Harvey released her 4th album, entitled “Is This Desire?”. At the time, it was perceived as a record where experimentation was less raw (vs her duet album with longtime friend and music collaborator John Parish “Dance Hall at Louse Point” from 1996) and somehow a relief as she was back on the grungy Rrriot girl rock that made her noticed by the whole world early on in her career. The Sky Lit Up is somehow another energy song à la Lick My Legs.

On “Is This Desire?”, Polly Jean Harvey isn’t as gothic as on the brilliant “To Bring You My Love”, that came out 3 years earlier. There’s also some loungy feeling here and there that are in the air-du-temps in 1998 (The River). Groove and melody come together on catchy but mysterious songs like The Wind. There, we can hear glimpse of the sound she would be creating 3 years later on the Mercury-prized 2001 album “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea”, that has more even stronger and rockier songs. On the latter opus, all songs are more coherent, as on “Is This Desire?”, Harvey explores many different avenues with each song, which make the album interesting but less conceptual.

There are still some edgier songs on this record that aren’t as easy to adopt on first listen, like Joy. Powerfully low bass vibes invent dubstep almost 20 years before its trend in the electro world. Industrial noises are used to create unique beats. Abrupt endings also shock. This wasn’t easy to swallow in 1998.

But still, masterpieces can be found in lo-fi songs like Catherine, a mysterious dark song about Catherine De Barra, a religious French woman from the 17th century. Tough not to hear a direct link with later songs like It’s You, that figured on another “almost great” album “Uh Huh Her”, from 2004.

PJ Harvey is a passionate artist that targets new horizons for every album, making her relevant at every corner. All her albums deserve lots of attention, in order to hear every detail, every layer of instruments, every whispered word, every bass pattern. A song like The Garden is a great example of superb songwriting and delicate recording. In Filter magazine in 2004, Harvey claimed she was very proud of this album, made in a difficult period of her life.

Harvey worked again with Flood as producer (who came famous for his work with U2, NIN, Nick Cave, Sigur Ros, etc), Marius de Vries (a close collaborator of Björk from the Sugarcubes days) and Head. The album was recorded in Dorsett, where Polly Jean is from, and London. Quality musicians like Rob Ellis, John Parish, Mick Harvey (long time Bad Seed), Eric Drew Feldman (a Frank Black collaborator), Joe Gore and Jeremy Hogg help her out creating.

There’s a lot of great ideas and great execution on everything she does. A great artist.

Is This Desire?
(Island Records, 1998)

-Genre: alternative rock
-In the same vibe than Radiohead, Beck

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About The Author

Mélomane invétéré plongeant dans tous les genres et époques, Nicolas Pelletier a publié 6 000 critiques de disques et concerts depuis 1991, dont 1100 chez emoragei magazine et 600 sur, dont il a également été le rédacteur en chef de 2009 à 2014. Il publie "Les perles rares et grands crus de la musique" en 2013, lance le site RREVERB en 2014, et devient stratège numérique des radios de Bell Média en 2015, participant au lancement de la marque iHeartRadio au Canada en 2016. Il dirige maintenant la stratégie numérique d'ICI Musique, la radio musicale de Radio-Canada.