P.J. HARVEY TELLS STORIES
Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:30 April 2021
In Britain, where P.J. Harvey was born, the peak rock music award is the annual Mercury Prize for Best Album. In the (almost) thirty-year history of the event, Harvey is the only person to win it twice. The first time was in 2001 for the geographically titled “Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea”. [The second win was ten years later when she explored her homeland at war on “Let England Shake”.]
“Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea” was P.J. Harvey’s fifth album, and was released in late October 2000. Although a fiercely independent artist, Harvey had been with high profile (and prestigious) label Island Records since her second album. There is a sense, on “Stories From The City…” that for the new century she was willing to meet a broader audience half-way. Yes, there are moments of indie squall (the thrilling build up in “Kamikaze”) and some wonderfully twisted neo-psychedelic rock with “Big Exit”, but generally what we have is a mellower P.J. than any previously captured on disc. As a result, it is a record that makes an ideal entry point for the curious and a palette broadening delight for exisiting fans.
There are many highlights on this consistently engaging record. Opening track “Big Exit” was mentioned earlier—a powerful beginning. Yet immediately the mood shifts, with “Good Fortune” having a pop feel. Not an entirely surprising observation; the song was released as a single, one of three from the LP.
Fans of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke will be well pleased with his vocal contributions to three of the songs. “One Line” is the first, where P.J.’s guest provides backing vocals and piano. There is a murmurous feel here; introspection reflecting on connection… flowing seamlessly into “Beautiful feeling” (also with Yorke). All is quiet and delicate… until the P.J. Harvey of old smashes into “The Whores Hustle And The Hustlers Whore”, swinging like a gold shoulder bag with a brick in it.
On side two I love the jangly power pop of “You Said Something” as it morphs into a triple time song evoking The Pretenders so powerfully you can see Chrissie Hynde’s panda eyes following you around the room. In contrast, the spare piano of “Horses In My Dreams” accompanies a plaintive lyric about the effort to break restricting chains; Harvey sounds wrung out, exhausted even, but somehow triumphant.
P.J. produced the record, in collaboration with long-time associate Rob Ellis and long-time Nick Cave associate Mick Harvey (no relation). The sound is clean and crisp, and more spacious than earlier Harvey albums. “Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea” is a very welcoming record, production wise.
This is the sound of a woman claiming her power and place. This is the sound of anger and yearning, the chords of conflict and closeness. A voice that soars and murmurs, guitars that dance or thrash. This is the sound of rock at the turn of the millennium, and it is good.
© Bruce Jenkins 2021