PJ Harvey: Is This Desire?

PJ Harvey: Is This Desire?

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PJ Harvey

Album: Is This Desire?
Label: Island

Even if, for some reason, you don't like Polly Jean Harvey's music, you have to acknowledge that she's never made the same album twice. There was 1992's intense, oft-acoustic Dry; 1993's intense, Steve Albini-produced, abrasively punk-rock Rid Of Me and its stripped-down companion piece, 4-Track Demos; 1995's intense, dirgy, critically adored blues-punk record To Bring You My Love; and an intense but forgettable 1996 John Parrish collaboration. (Quick! Try to remember the title! It's Dance Hall At Louse Point.) Aside from a few recurring themes (intensity, for one), there's really no way to tell what she's going to do next. That's certainly true of the new Is This Desire?, but never before has Harvey sounded so aimless. She dabbles in torchy ballads ("Angeline") and moody electronica ("The Wind"), and drops the occasional thundering, plodding fuzzbomb ("My Beautiful Leah," "Joy"). At times, the spooky, electronically enhanced minimalism works—"Catherine" and the piano-based "The Garden" are especially powerful—but sometimes, it just produces underwhelming Portishead-by-numbers ("Electric Light"). Is This Desire? closes on a pair of high notes. "No Girl So Sweet" is both subtle and explosive, while the title track finishes off the album on a creepy, engaging note. But the album needs a clear vision to work as a whole, and Harvey instead chooses to tentatively and uneventfully dip her toe into a crowded electronica well. That's too bad.