Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea

PJ Harvey

Island Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


It would be unfair to expect artists to convey only one emotion to their audience. The New Pornographers shouldn't have to release happy music all the time, just because their first two albums were pop ecstasy. If Trent Reznor falls in love, he should do an album about the experience if he thinks it would be a good subject. After all, love changes an artist -- case in point with PJ Harvey.

In the angst-ridden '90s, Harvey was the queen of angst; producing the back-to-back classics Rid Of Me and To Bring You My Love. Greatness took its toll on Harvey, however. In an interview in Rolling Stone, Harvey said she never wanted to be in the emotional state that she was in when she recorded my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 To Bring You My Love. So in 2000, Harvey moved overseas to New York City. She also fell in love. The two major changes resulted in Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea.

The album's rich elegance draws images of late-night parties on rooftops, cab rides through Manhattan and falling into "Good Fortune" with a new relationship full of possibilities. It's easily Harvey's sunniest album. Still, there's plenty of dark corridors awaiting listeners. PJ Harvey at her most cheerful is still darker than the most angry Alanis Morissette record.

As a rock album, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea is amazingly consistent. "Good Fortune" is great AOL rock material and the shredding "Kamikaze" would have fit in perfect with her earlier works. Hell, Fox even played guitar riffs from "Big Exit" to hype the NFL playoffs in 2001. For any other artist, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea would have been a crowning achievement. But not every artist is PJ Harvey.

As consistent, enjoyable and flat out rocking as Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea is, it is also the first PJ Harvey that is relatively free of danger for the listener. Every album she released before Stories, was a major turning point. Dry was the debut that announced her talent, Rid of Me was menstruation punk at its creative peak, To Bring You My Love was her masterpiece and Is This Desire was just plain weird -- in the best of ways. Each turn you didn't know what to expect with a PJ Harvey album. And with Stories, it was the first of her albums where a seasoned PJ Harvey listener wasn't exactly bowled over by her boldness. Even her duet with Thom Yorke on "This Mess We're In" seems more like a hipster marriage of talent than a truly great song that utilizes both of their gifts.

Still, Stories is far from treading water. PJ Harvey celebrated the joys of uprooting herself and falling in love. She also had her share of haunting ballads, namely the ghostly closing track "We Float." Stories may be a standard rock album, but Harvey can still make even a traditional rock album sound as dangerous as falling head over heels in love.

Rating: B+

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© 2004 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Island Records, and is used for informational purposes only.