On 1995's "To Bring You My Love", P J Harvey (Polly Jean to the critics who pretend they know her) took a major step away from the guitar-driven sounds of "Dry" and "Rid of Me" and started down a path of subtle, moody sounds textured with deep electronic bass rumblings and crisp, mechanized drum sounds. She completes this journey with her latest, "Is This Desire?", a subtle masterpiece of whispers and haunted cries that contain as much rage and power as the screams that she unleashed on her first two albums. Unlike Liz Phair, another indie queen who first found success in the early 90's, P J is having no trouble keeping her music fresh while keeping her vision pure; her new sound, although differing wildly from her early work, still maintains a spiritual link to the themes and emotions that have always been a part of her songwriting.
What it comes down to is the P J Harvey is simply an extraordinary artist who has the unique ability to combine raw emotional power with precise technical songcrafting. There are still a few numbers that rely heavily on guitars ("The Sky Lit Up", "A Perfect Day For Elise"), but even these songs incorporate the strong bass lines and drum machines that create the heartbeat for the best songs on the CD. "The Wind" is a small masterpiece, starting out with the barely audible whisper "Catherine liked high places" and building to a climax of layered vocals over a funky bass line punctuated with spooky whale cries. "My Beautiful Leah" and "Electric Light" are both dominated by distorted electronic bass sounds that are so low that they're more like tremors than notes. "Catherine", "The River", and "Is This Desire?" are quiet, emotional meditations on jealousy, love, pain, and redemption, themes that are at the heart of this record.
"Joy" is really the only song on this record that doesn't hit the mark, but its failure is that much harder to swallow because of the stunning successes that surround it. This record isn't for everyoneno one's going to be playing it at partiesbut it pays big dividends if you give it a few listens. With "Is This Desire?", P J Harvey has once again proven that she is one of the most important songwriters of our time, reinventing her sound yet again while remaining true to her essential style.