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Is This Desire?

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Album Review

Retreating from the limelight after the tour for her acclaimed third album, To Bring You My Love, PJ Harvey became something of a recluse, appearing only on her colleague John Parish's Dance Hall at Louse Point, as well as a Nick Cave record, over the course of the next two and a half years. During her self-imposed exile, Harvey returned to her small hometown of Yeovil and isolated herself from most pop trends, eventually writing the material that would come to comprise her fourth album, Is This Desire?. Released over three and a half years after To Bring You My Love, Is This Desire? has all the hallmarks of a record written in isolation; subtle, cerebral, insular, difficult to assimilate, it's the album where Polly Harvey enters the ranks of craftsmen, sacrificing confession for fiction. It's an inevitable transition for any artist, especially one as lyrically gifted as Harvey, and though her words are more obtuse and not as brutal, painful, or clever, she still draws some effective character sketches. Similarly, the music on Is This Desire? is hardly the immediate, blunt force that characterized her first albums, nor is it the grand theater of To Bring You My Love — it takes its time, slowly working its way into the subconsciousness. There are a few guitar explosions scattered throughout the record, but it's primarily a series of layered keyboards, electronic rhythms and acoustic guitars, so quiet that at times it barely rises above a murmur. It's the kind of record that seems to challenge the listener to accept it on its own grounds. Given that it is more concerned with texture than any of her previous records, it's a break forward. Is This Desire? is cerebral where her other albums were visceral, both lyrically and musically.

Biography

Born: 09 October 1969 in Yeovil, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

During the early-'90s alternative rock explosion, several female singer/songwriters rose to prominence, but few were as distinctive or as widely praised as Polly Jean Harvey. Over the course of three albums, Harvey established herself as one of the most individual and influential songwriters of the '90s, exploring themes of sex, love, and religion with unnerving honesty, dark humor, and a twisted theatricality. At the outset of her career, she led the trio PJ Harvey, which delivered her stark songs...
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