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Sunday, 22 October, 2000, 07:29 GMT 08:29 UK
CD Review: PJ Harvey
PJ Harvey
PJ Harvey: New York is a major inspiration for the album
By the BBC's Nigel Packer

In the shadowy world of PJ Harvey, nothing is as straightforward as it first appears.

Love songs turn queasy, conflicting emotions merge into one, and even a statement like "It's the best thing/Such a beautiful feeling" can sound more like a lament than a celebration.

This gift for creating a sense of ambiguity is one of Harvey's major strengths as a performer.

It is put to good use on her sixth album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (Universal Island) - a stunning mix of complex emotions and spare, skeletal arrangements.

Recorded with rhythm section Mick Harvey and Rob Ellis, plus a substantial contribution from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, it features 13 songs written in New York and Dorset.

The title is meant to reflect the two locations which inspired the album, although in truth it's a collection steeped almost entirely in the livewire atmosphere of the big city.

PJ Harvey
At the forefront of British singer-songwriters
"Too many cops/Too may guns" shouts Polly Jean on opening track Big Exit - a paranoid tale with scratchy guitars and a big floating chorus - before taking a stroll through Chinatown and Little Italy on Good Fortune, the first of several powerful love songs.

Yorke's backing vocals are a mere ghostly presence on One Line, a story of love under siege in a hostile world, but he emerges from the shadows for Beautiful Feeling.

With a lone electric guitar to accompany the two voices, it combines emotional intensity with a cathedral hush - like Simon and Garfunkel on anti-depressants.

This Mess We're In, a pulsating tale of (lost) soul mates, is another fine duet with Yorke, and there's more minor chord unease on Horses In My Dreams, an acknowledgement of one of Harvey's chief influences - Patti Smith.

Spiky

"I have pulled myself clear", she sings in the chorus, although in true PJ Harvey-style the feeling remains that the struggle is far from over.

After the near-jauntiness of You Said Something, the spiky guitars of The Whores Hustle And The Hustlers Whore signal a return to more confrontational mode.

There's even a nod to Iggy Pop in the dramatic crooning delivery and Passenger-like cry: "This city's ripped right to the core".

Kamikaze is another rush of guitar-fuelled adrenaline, while This Is Love and This Wicked Tongue are tense, troubled and erotically-charged.

We Float, on the other hand, sees the neurosis give way to Zen-like detachment in the lines "We'll float/Take life as it comes".

Such a sentiment comes as a bit of a shock in the pressure cooker environment of a PJ Harvey album.

But then again it's just this ability to keep listeners on their toes which keeps her at the very forefront of British singer-songwriters.

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