PJ HARVEY - Is This Desire? (Island)

Polly Jean Harvey has never been a fan of moderation. Forget the small stuff: She’s after transcendence, epiphanies, ultimate meanings -- anything that heightens the intensity of tepid reality -- and she isn’t afraid to look foolish in the service of Art. Whether cooing like the living dead ("Electric Light") or shrieking amid a storm of electric noise ("No Girl So Sweet"). Harvey pursues inner truth with an obsessive intensity. Even when she stumbles, she’s not dull.

Though hardly a great technical singer, Harvey always summons up the perfect growl or moan. Proving she can belt out a rocker with the best of ‘em, "The Sky Lit Up" clatters ominously like vintage Siouxsie and the Banshees, while the hushed "Catherine" finds her consumed by homicidal envy, sighing with the self-pitying fervour of a true nut-case.

These Oscar-quality performances would be enhanced by a dash of humour. Harvey’s relentlessly grave posturing can lead to self-parody, with her pretentious whispering in "The Wind" verging on outright silliness. Mostly though Is This Desire? is an evocative treat, the kind of haunting mood piece that plays best after midnight. Light those candles and dig the vibe.

Jon Young