**** Enthusiastically Endorsed
After three year's wait, it would be churlish to expect PJ Harvey's fourth album to have much in common with any of its predecessors. Still in her mid-20s for even the primal exorcism of 1995's "To Bring You My Love", Harvey is now just a year off 30, and whatever else she's been imbibing as she contemplates that milestone, a deeper draught of swamp-driven blues obviously wasn't part of it.
"Is This Desire?" is not the most tuneful collection of songs she has written; nor, with caterwauling fragments like "The Sky Lit Up" and "My Beautiful Leah" clocking in at under two minutes, is it her most fulfilled. In terms of texture and sheer sonic indulgence, however, it is certainly her darkest, from the sibilant saga of "Catherine" itself, a bitter delicacy that owes at least some of its presentation to Ruby.
Building on the semi-experimental feel of "Love", then "Is This Desire?" is as concerned with musical dislocation as it is with the songs. And though a few old Harvey trademarks do eventually emerge from producer Flood's impenetrable mix (her continued obsession with water, for example), you're more likely to catch the Risidents traipsing through the mix than you are "Sheela Na Gig."
Maybe the opener, "Angeline," does follow an old Danielle Dax guitar riff through what swiftly emerges as a genuinely beautiful song, but it's the only one to even acknowledge such conventions. Rather, imagine innumerable (but never tiresomely so) remixes of the last album's "Working For the Man," over which P.J. wrings ever-new dimensions from that so remarkable voice... and ever-new pain from her pen.
Harvey's acolytes will undoubtedly pore over "Is This Desire?" in search of recent loves and losses, and maybe that fling with Nick Cave has left a shadow-- most likely cast across "The River" and "No Girl So Sweet," the most pointedly personal songs here. For the most part, however, "Is This Desire?" remains so obsessively mysterious that it doesn't even answer its own title question. Or if it does, it's a desire that's best left unspoken. (Island) Dave Thompson