Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea

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This is love, that I'm feeling... for PJ Harvey

Jul 26, 2012
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:The nasty-nice combination, the poetry.

Cons:Kamikaze.

The Bottom Line: Astounding album. A few vulgar tracks with cheeky lyrics and kick *ss music to sing them to but also the delicate, sweet side of PJ Harvey.


I’ve been listening to this PJ Harvey album on the metro all the time, because it has quite a few songs with the underground feel. Songs that make you walk tall, that make you feel like you can take the world. Then again Harvey also opens up in her poetry, exposing herself a vulnerable as can be in You Said Something and We Float. Music-wise: Stories Of The City, Stories Of The Sea is a very accessible album compared to PJ Harveys other albums. Released at the end 2000, it still has that experimental feel to it, but much more organized somehow. It’s accessible experimental.

You will never forget the sultry summer sound the bass introduces One Line with. It dazzles an dances with the pleasant absence of complexity and has such a deep sound it makes your insides tremble. To compliment the carefree feel, an echoing guitar and choir – that’s right, I said choir – fades in. The bridge seals One Line up with two lines: ‘Watch the stars now moving across the sky. Keep this feeling safe tonight.’ Along with this being terrific track in itself, it also holds a place in my heart because it was the first I ever heard of PJ Harvey.

Big Exit is everything but boring. Classic order of instruments: it kicks off with nothing but the guitar lead, followed by supporting drums and then vocals. Incredibly catchy, although, when you’re just listening to Big Exit, nodding your head and closing your eyes, you might be caught off guard by the quite controversial lyrics: ‘I want a pistol, I want a gun, I’m scared, baby,I want to run. This world is crazy, give me a gun.’ Might not be sending out a very positive message. Other than that, this song is super. Not the best on the album (that’s This Is Love), but certainly in the top five.

This Mess We’re In must be the general favourite. Not PJ Harvey, but Thom Yorke is the main voice here and it is one amazing piece of art. The poetry is reaching heights over the skyscrapers they sing about.

‘I just want to say: don’t ever change.
And thank you, I don’t think we will meet again.
And you must leave now, before the sun rises
over the skyscrapers and the city landscape comes into being.
Sweat on my skin and this mess we’re in.’

I think one of those Italian picobello-gestures is in order. There’s a thin line of musical arrangement cascading throughout the song, which works perfectly as a background to this lyrical masterpiece.

Ever had one of those moments where you had a conversation that was important but awkward at the same time and was never spoken of again – even though both people remember it? ‘I held my breath and you said something that I’ve never forgotten.’ I’d say this is what You Said Something is about. So again, it’s poetry, but in this track it’s sung upon a slightly thicker background than This Mess We’re In. It consists of a deep bass line stretching out over soothing drum rolls and loose guitar picking. I’ve got a minor crush on this song, because it makes me think of those moments where you said something and the music fits the mood perfectly.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it for you: the first few times I listened to Kamikaze I felt I was abusing myself so hard I’d rather rip off my own toenail and then eat it. With a dressing of ear grease. That’s truly how bothered I was by this song being on an otherwise flawless album. But I’ve grown to somewhat like it: the part I hated was the noisy, much too fast-paced chorus: some brassy, high-pitched screaming of ‘kamikaze, kamikaze.’ PJ Harvey just sounds like a nagging brat in this song. But as I said, I can stand it now. For the sole reason the intro is really good. The cheery guitar riff and animated drums sound promising. And then the rest of that song breaks the promise. Unfortunately.

This Is Love sounds like an instant classic: I can’t believe it isn’t more famous to the general, not-necessarily-PJ Harvey-obsessed public. The intro is an explosion of the unpolished, driving guitar riff that will loop throughout the song. The slow, rumbling drum drawing up behind it serves as it’s own support act. This Is Love makes me sizzle with energy and as soon as I hear the bridge crack open I turn into a bad *ss: ‘You’re the only story that I’ve never told, you’re my dirty little secret, want to keep you so.’ It’s a love song with a side of delicious nastiness: my favourite, it’s even better than One Line.

We Float is the only song that uses piano so prominently. On top of just drums and the piano, PJ typically puts her vignette into words: ‘You shoplifted as a child. I had a model's smile, you carried all my hopes until something broke inside. But now we float, take life as it comes.’ It’s a recognizable retrospective framed by a dreamy, translucent atmosphere. The lyrics – or rather: poetry, because that is really what it is – are deep yet so see-through they seem to be made out of butterfly wings. I can’t stop listening to this.

Returning to the shady, a-big-fight-is-coming-up-but-I-can-take-them-all air of This Is Love, This Wicked Tongue brings the album to an end. ‘This wicked tongue says: God is a million miles away.’ God, I wish I had come up with that. Evocative lyrics like these driven by scraggly guitar tone, some mad drum work and eventually a phenomenal outburst of Harvey singing: ‘And the noise is as much as I can bear’ make by far the best closer. Brilliantly done.

As is the whole entire album. There’s a few vulgar, unholy tracks on there, with cheeky lyrics and kick *ss music to sing them to: Big Exit, This Is Love, This Wicked Tongue. There’s also the delicate, sweet side of PJ Harvey: One Line, You Said Something, We Float. If I haven’t convinced you yet: this album won the Mercury Music Prize for ‘Best Album’ in 2001. I’m going to allow Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (it is a mouthful, isn’t it? Took me five minutes to type that out.) five stars. This is love, that I’m feeling… for PJ Harvey.

Song list and rating:

1. Big Exit - 3:51 *****
2. Good Fortune - 3:20 *****
3. A Place Called Home - 3:43 *****
4. One Line - 3:14 *****
5. Beautiful Feeling - 4:00 *****
6. The Wh*res Hustle and the Hustlers Wh*re - 4:01 ****
7. This Mess We're In (featuring Thom Yorke) - 3:57 *****
8. You Said Something - 3:19 *****
9. Kamikaze - 2:24 ***
10. This Is Love - 3:48 *****
11. Horses in My Dreams - 5:38 ****
12. We Float - 6:07 *****
13. This Wicked Tongue - 3:42 *****

Total time: 51:07
Overall rating: 4,7


Recommend this product? Yes


Great Music to Play While: Driving

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