Album: Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
Artist: PJ Harvey
Reason Featured: #2 on The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop Poll for 2000, #7 Album for Rolling Stone’s Top Ten Albums of 2000, #3 for NME’s Top Fifty Albums of 2000, winner of the Mercury Prize
My Favorite Songs: Big Exit, The Whores Hustle and The Hustlers Whore, The Mess We’re In, You Said Something, Kamikaze
Their Grades: Rolling Stone (4.5/5), Pitchfork (5.5/10), NME 9/10, Robert Christgau (A+)
My Grade: 91%
PJ Harvey is never not powerful. From the twinkling piano intro of her latest album’s eponymous song, “Let England Shake,” to the thudding guitars spread all throughout Uh Huh Her, she always finds a way to infiltrate her chosen instrumentation with confidence and edginess. She packs the same wallop as a Patti Smith or a Siouxsie Sioux but with, dare I say it and Lord forgive me, even more diversity to her sound. With that said, I’ve always had a hard time sitting down and making it through an entire one of her records. I usually get side tracked by the fact she dated Nick Cave and put on Let Love In about halfway through. That’s not the case with Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. Out of the PJ I’ve heard, this is the record that hit me the hardest. Ironic, since it’s one of her more gentle sets of songs.
Perhaps the most impressive element of this album is how well it assimilates the sounds which painted the nineties’ canvas from beginning to end and submits them to Harvey’s authority. She knew she was bringing in the new millennium and does so by incorporating Björk and Madchester dancebeats on some tracks, jangly guitars here and distorted ones there. For a woman whose voice alone could make many weak at the knees, Harvey is always impressive for her dedication to putting just as much effort in getting the music just right. On Stories, she got it just perfect.
She’s at her most catchy here but it’d be foolish to critique it for being an affair of levity. The Harvey heaviness is present and pervasive on this record as much as it was on To Bring You My Love or any of her other gritty records, just in different ways. Not to mention, you get to hear Thom Yorke’s birdsong warble providing backups on certain tracks while also full on duetting on “The Mess We’re In.” Just like Yorke’s work with Radiohead, Harvey’s stories, whether they come from the city, the sea or wherever else, will always make the mess we’re in more bearable and beautiful. If you’re looking for a place in PJ’s pool to jump into, this is the one. Submerge yourself, my friends.