# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

PJ Harvey - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

  by Julia Willis

published: 12 / 4 / 2002

PJ Harvey - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
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In the latest in our series, in which one of our writers writes about an album of his or her choice, Julia Willis examines PJ Harvey's Mercury Award winning 'Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea'

Shhhh! I think I might be in detention. I think I’ll probably get marked down for not reading the question. If you’re reading this, you probably know the drill. I review my favourite album. You reminisce or disagree at will and we all go home, a little more enlightened, probably with a few more gems on the artist or album we didn’t know before. It’s a great idea. I like it. But. Well.... I had a problem with the question sir…… I looked through my CD collection God only knows how many times. Then, I looked through all my friends’ collections for things they might have "borrowed" that I had forgotten about. Also, truth be told, I was cribbing to see if they had cooler stuff than me and I could pretend I had been into the Deftones for years… So, bereft of suitable 'favourite album" leaping out at me the way the neighbour’s cat does when I poke it with a stick, I thought I would twist the question. I always had a problem with authority as a child and it would seem that nothing has mellowed with age. I thought about making up my own mix CD of all the songs that had ever meant something, but I couldn’t get my number of favourite tunes down into double figures. The truth is it depends on the mood I am in as to what my favourite album is and even then there are probably five or six waiting in the CD player for me to skip to. Unlike time, emotion isn’t linear. (Oh God, please no one email me their hypotheses on the space/time continuum…). Some days I want to be inspired. I want something different. Sometimes I want music to be the panacea to my lifetime of teenage angst and other times I just want to dance and smile. Some days, I want to do all these things in the same sitting. There are so many albums I love because they have songs on them that cater for my erratic mood swings. But, not one of these albums I love defines me entirely as a person and I always believed that the music you love does define you as a person. They all cater for bits of my personality or soundtrack particular moments of my life but I am not sure I could hand anyone a compact disc and say "Listen to this ; This is me." I feel that a disparate collection of songs by an eclectic choice of artists that I can random play at will says it all. I sat down and thought long and hard for a while until it struck me that I hadn’t changed the CD downstairs for ages, so it’s always playing when I’m writing. "Why haven’t I changed that CD?" I thought. "I do really love it and I do really love the artist, but there’s another reason. It isn’t mine. If I take it out and stop playing it, I’ll have to give it back. I don’t want to give it back." Then it struck me. Right now, this is my favourite album. I’ve listened to it so much I can hear the songs in my head even when it’s not playing. I am renowned in the office for bursting into song or humming at the certain vibration that irritates my boss just enough to satisfy me. This CD is the soundtrack to the last few weeks of my life and I would happily hand it over now to someone and say: "This is me." PJ Harvey – 'Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.' It’s a great title isn’t it? I love the idea that she’s telling me a series of short, meaningful stories - immortalising ephemeral moments from her six months in New York and giving them to me – so that I can immortalise the last few weeks of my life; the thoughts, feelings, events and people I have been around. This album is an emotional snapshot and a series of images and stories surrounding the way I feel right now. Every now and again the subject comes up: "Julia, I used to have a really great PJ Harvey album in the car, I think I lent it to someone. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that would you?" "Er…..pass?" I think I might be in detention again…. It belongs to my boyfriend and he loves his music. This is definitely a deadly sin and I’m sure I am breaking several commandments: I am definitely coveting goods. I shalt not steal – unless it’s a CD you really like and you think he won’t notice. Greed and Envy definitely apply…. The thing is, this CD reminds me of him, it reminds me of they way my life changed when I met him and PJ Harvey knows how that feels. I haven’t heard any other album reviewer say this-but you decide for yourself if I’m onto something here: each song itself is a story, but so too is the album. This is the first album from Polly Jean that introduces feelings other than melancholic lonely anger with painful insight. This album has an optimism borne of love that retains her ability to sonically identify and capture the moment. The first track 'Big Exit' has an uplifting guitar riff with a driving beat that sets the tone for a song lamenting a city where violence presides over love, and introduces an ever present theme of escape. "Baby baby/ ain’t it true/ I’m immortal/ when I’m with you." This theme is reiterated in ‘The Whores Hustle And The Hustlers Whore’ – ‘"Too many people out of love" and "Just give me something I can believe." ‘Good Fortune’ exemplifies the change in Harvey. She sings of intense love and the optimism it brings ."And I feel the innocence of a child/ Everybody’s got something good to say’. The first few lines see her divesting herself of bad fortune and finding love. And this sets the scene for an album about love and the desire to elope, as if love transcends the physical places she describes-Little Italy, the Empire State Building, Mexico, San Diego – and which conjures up the idea of a personal journey. As the album progresses, songs of reflection, no less intense in their belief in love, show Harvey emotionally wizened by her time in New York, learning to put the past behind and live for the moment: "But now we float/take life as it comes." I think Polly Jean would agree with me here – this album charts that time when you fell in love for the first and last time and the way in which that seismic shift alters perception, reality and surroundings. If you asked me seven years ago to review my favourite album, for a couple of months back there, it would have been PJ Harvey’s ‘To Bring You My Love’ so I admit she’s a prevalent force. But I think albums and songs freeze frame images and feelings in your head at the time. They are the key to unlock those images and feelings at any given time, whatever mood you happen to be in. Think about it. Does just one artist and ten songs comprise the soundtrack to your life? At this moment, PJ Harvey knows how I feel and in months and years to come, when I want to feel again what I feel now – I’ll put this album on and I’ll still be in love with it and the life it reminds me of.

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PJ Harvey - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

PJ Harvey - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

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