on February 3, 2004
This album is certainly different than PJs previous ones, and a little disappointing for me initially for just that very reason. It was the second album of hers that I had ever heard, after 'To Bring You My Love', and quite a bit different. Eventually, I grew to love this one as well, if not quite as much as 'TBYML'. But this is what PJ does. She moves on to explore other ideas, never wanting to repeat herself. It's a challenge she places on herself, and by extension, on her fans.
I love how she incorporates different elements into her music, but never really talks much about her sources for inspiration, leaving some mystery intact. St. Catherine lore, Flannery O'Connor stories, and Nick Cave break-up relationship issues are but a few elements that inform the songs on this record. Never in a heavy-handed sort of way, mind you. These influences have been recognized by fans over time. Someone reads an O'Connor story, and notices very close similarities to the song 'Joy', for example, incorporating a character from it into the main subject of the song. These different themes or topics for songs are always worked in with subtlety, mystery, never with banal obviousness.
And no, PJ is not a lesbian (insert famous Seinfeld line here!). I say this because there are a few songs on this record that the romantic character being sung about is a woman, so the uninitiated wonder, "does this mean Polly's gay?". Polly has stated that when she writes songs, she'll sing from either a female or male perspective, never really differentiating the two all that much. Hence, the confusion on the issue, especially on this record where 'Catherine', 'No Girl, So Sweet', 'Perfect Day Elise' and 'Electric Light' all have females being sung about from a perspective of "desire" for them.
This album contains the most studio enhancements of any so far. If you like raw and straight for the jugular Polly, this one isn't quite it. Though it still does contain some of the best of Polly Jean Harvey traits: passion, drama, mystery, excitment, it adds more production layering and more third person songwriting perspectives. It is probably her darkest record to date. It lacks some of the subtle humor employed in her previous records. But if you like dark songwriting, and like some occasional dance beats and other studio enhancements, you will likely enjoy this record too. Even if you don't like all of it, there will likely be at least a few songs you'll adore. Afterall, there is no such thing as a bad PJ Harvey record.
on November 3, 2003
With the (almost impossible) task of topping the incredible "To bring you my love" -her previous album- expected by fans, P.J actually delivers a great album by going in a slightly different direction.
She leaves one masterpiece behind and constructs a new one. And this must be trickery at its best because Harvey accomplishes this without necessarily employing new recipes.
The tragic stories are there. The darkness and general gloominess of the songs as well. The overall intense atmosphere and the dirty rock riffs.
And yet this sounds different. So what's changed? Well, whatever change there is it is subtle.
The production is polished and so is the music. Definately not as raw as "Rid of me" and not as theatric as "To bring you my love". The songs seem to be more accessible than on previous LPs and this might (just might) bring her to new wider audiences.
But this is beauty of an album nevertheless.
Harvey tries a few new things with her voice and the rest stays as we know her.
There are tremendous songs to be ebjoyed in "Is this desire?", namely, and most notably "Angelene", the ultra catchy "The wind", "My beautiful Leah", the stunning "It's a perfect day Elise" and of course the eponymously titled "is this desire" saved for last on the record.
It's a neverending proposition with P.J Harvey, you either love her or ignore her. I can easily understand how many will find her voice and her lyrics rather "difficult". After all, Harvey sings like no other female singer i know.
For those who love her music and voice this LP will be yet one more to treasure and while, yes, it doesnt grab you immediately like "To bring you my love" did, this is one where the more you listen to it the more you'll sink deeper in it.
Twelve songs of immense feeling.
on September 28, 2003
Its been almost 5 years since I've purchased this CD, and I still listen to album everyday(especially when I study or just feel lonely). This is one of the most intriguing, compelling, mind-bodling, spellbound displays of musical brillance by PJ Harvey. The music alone is absolutely captivating, creating a moody and romantic atmosphere that is undescrible to someone who hasn't heard this masterpiece. Every song creates a different ambiance, with PJ Harvey's voice rising over the music to create a perfect combination. Her voice is definitely much more powerful, seductive, and well improved from her previous releases. Critics may argue that her best recording may be To Bring You My Love, but this Cd certainly dismantles the melocholy mood of To Bring You My Love. To Bring You My Love has a few great songs, but it is not a Cd that you can listen to from top to bottom without skipping a few tracks. On the other hand, Is This Desire is one of those rarities that can be played from beginning to end. It is the perfect Cd to play in the background with a romantic candlelight dinner at your apartment with the lights really low. My favorite songs are The River, The Sky Lit Up, A Perfect Day Elise---who am I kidding---they are all perfect!!! This is an absolute masterpiece!!
on May 12, 2003
Heard "Rid Of Me" a few years ago and found it very off-putting. This CD is a little mellower in that the production is cleaner and the arrangements are a little quieter; on balance, though, this is a CD that will please any PJ enthusiast but not too many others. My take is that if you thought Bryan Ferry made a habit of exposing his emotions in song, he doesn't hold a candle to PJ. She would suck all the juices out of Ferry's body and leave him a charred, crispy, quivering husk. She is without a doubt the queen of raging, tragic, compulsive/obsessive songwriting. A rawer expression of obsessive love and flat-out horniness would be very difficult to find, unless it were other PJ albums. Way too raw for my taste. She's positively flagitious in her need to expose every single raw-nerved aspect of her failed physical relationships. Jeez! Have a beer! It must be hard to find good men in Cornwall. Oh well, she's moved to New York now anyway so she's probably doing better now, poor dear. Musically, PJ is also the mistress of the brief, punchy song. The best song on the CD, "Elise," is less than three minutes and cries out for longer treatment. My wife really likes her, though.
on January 13, 2003
This album is one of my dearest possessions. While I like all PJ Harvey's albums, this by far my favourite, and for all the virtues of earlier, rockier, dirtier Polly Jean, I think this is her most subtle, complex and richly textured album. While I love the brash gender-bending rock of "Rid of Me", and the theatrical melodrama of "To Bring You My Love", this album seems much more intimate to me, and almost incandescent in its loveliness. It's still obvious that PJ Harvey is trying on different masks on this album, playing with various personae; she's still very fond
of the archetype of the abandoned female, for instance, and the parade of lovesick, self-devouring women on this album is seemingly endless. This time, though, PJ Harvey externalizes this role-playing a little by creating characters - Joy, Catherine, Leah. She's always loved delving into the myths of femininity, and trying them on like dresses - or not wearing them at all. Here, though, the lyrics don't just screw with Biblical references, but conjure up whole narratives, and here, the phrasing is subtle, allusive, and quietly poetic. I've had this album for years and I'm still trying to decipher the stories that linger aambiguously behind the words. "The Garden", for instance, has always sounded to me like a homosexual encounter between a young boy and an older man - with a vague hint of menace and the suggestion of defilement thrown into the mix. But, then, who knows? It's funny I should feel this album is so warm and incandescent, because, really, it's pure winter on all of these 12 tracks, and the moments of beauty and clarity are often perverse, pitted against all possible odds, and haunted by a sinister undercurrent - and the characters are, almost without exception, jaded, empty, and debased by their overwhelming hunger for love. And yet it persists, the slow-burning beauty of this album, especially on the title track, "Angelene", and "The River." It's suffice to say that if the Brontes sisters were alive and collaborating on an album, it might sound a bit like this.
on January 9, 2003
I remeber the summer of 1998. I got stucked to Radio 3 Spain during awhole weekend listening to the Benicassim Festival broadcast.On Friday, the first day, PJ Harvey was going to premiere some songs of this record. I was her fan since I saw the video of "Down by the water", though when i bought "To bring you my love" i stayed a little cold (basicly because of the "synthetic" rcordings of "Meet ze monsta" and "Working for the man" -every fan should listen to the live versions in Glastonbury 1995).
I taped her show that night and fell in love with the new tracks; i was surprised in september, when the record came out, to see that the live performances of two of my favourite songs were radically different from the ones in the record, which is a good thing to say about Polly: she knows how to rework the songs to make them work live. The problem is that i still love the live versions better: the agressive keyboard on "Joy" (similar to the one in "Down by the water" but a lot more raw) and the drum machine were substituited by a wonderful rock riff and Rob Ellis' perfect drumming live; as well as for "The garden", which sounded mysterious live and in the record is also,...synthetic, i can't think of any other word.
The other tracks she played that night were "Angelene", "A perfect day Elise", "Electric light" and "Is this desire?"; all of them are perfectly performed in this record.
My favourites are, anyway, "Angelene" and "No girl so sweet", which i find so violent (that whining violin, the drums, the lyrics: "I don't mind if you take me down and i don't mind if you break it all but, how much more can you take from me?).
So, basicly, the reason why i don't give 5 stars to it is because i always have to end up skipping "Joy" and "The garden" and search for the tape of the show to enjoy them. It's an excellent record.As beautiful and annoying as all of her albums.
on December 28, 2002
PJ Harvey has always been underrated. She is an incredibly talented artist and yet not widely known by many people. She gets great press reviews and has her own cult following, but not much support from radio or MTV.
When Is This Desire? was released in 1998 it kept her core fans happy but there were some odd, griping critics who were disappointed by it. I think they sorely underrated the album and just misunderstood it. For it's clear to anyone with intelligence and good taste that this is one truly BRILLIANT album. PJ says herself that it's her strongest album and her personal favourite out of any she's released. And after all I think she knows best!
The opener Angelene is an epic, bittersweet, slow-burning country ballad full of twangy slide guitar riffs and tinkling grand piano. It's an extremely romantic song, a mixture of sadness and joy, hurt and hope for the future. Bruised but optimistic. When her husky voice blooms into full throb on the chorus - "Two thousand miles away/He walks upon the coast/Two thousand miles away/Lays open like a road" - it just takes your breath away and sends shivers down your spine.
The River is a piano-driven love song that is hauntingly beautiful and dreamy, and PJ sings it with such heartfelt sincere emotion that it's almost painful to listen to. A Perfect Day Elise is deliciously catchy and danceable, with a deep dark bass groove that pulls you deep into the song. Other tracks see her revisiting her harder guitar-rock roots or experimenting with electronic styles like jungle, industrial and ambient trip-hop to very stylish and powerful effect. It's near-impossible to choose highlights from Is This Desire? because the whole album is an absolute winner, packed with standouts from beginning to end.
By the way Harvey's astonishing lyrical skill on this album rivals the very best of rock's all-time master wordsmiths and elder statesmen: people like Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and of course the grandaddy of them all - Bob Dylan. Yes, she's really THAT good a songwriter.
In my opinion Is This Desire? is the greatest of all PJ Harvey's albums and an essential CD for any music-lover's collection.
on May 16, 2002
"To bring you my love" is one of my favorite albums ever, as it is one of the most heart-wrenching emotional albums to come out of the 90's, if not of all time. But that album was a hard album to follow, so we have this album, "Is this desire?". It appeals to a broader audience, as it has more radio friendly singles (e.g. perfect day elise, etc)... this album it seems as if she has found some spiritual comforting or something, as this is the bridge album between her old raw style from dry, rid of me, and TBYML, and to the new PJ harvey on "stories from the city, stories from the sea". many claim this album to be her strongest of all, but i disagree. it has a couple songs to get you hooked, but the album is alot more bland than the other albums and doesnt show near as much raw emotion or creativity though. she experiments a little with some electronic sounds, but thast about it. but everything PJ touches turns to gold, so you cant go wrong with anything. and its a great album for starters, if TBYML is a little too intense for you right now. im glad she has found some comforting, but it just doesnt caputer the magic that her previous albums did. it took me awhile longer to get into this album, just because its a little more bland than her other works.
on April 10, 2002
P.J Harvey's music is very mature,diffrent and...interesting; most of the songs are built in a story form and you can really see and feel the characters in these stories through P.J's 'oh so unique' voice which always changes to match the mood.
"Angelene" is beautiful,i bet every woman on this planet can relate to it and every man can understand her situation.it's a very touching track."A Perfect day Elise" is sooo up-lifting it makes you wanna dance and it's also seductive(in my POV anyway!).
in "Catherine" you can really feel the desire,wanting and mostly the obssession. some songs are really edgy (like "Joy","Elise" "Leah" "No girl so sweet")
and some are really smooth & full of desire (like "The Wind").
There's no mention about love in this CD (something that i think is good...with all do respect,i'm tired of these stupid pop love songs) and so the album's title really summs up the feeling in the songs,it's about a woman who's been through alot of stuff and asking herself if Desire is enough to lift her up.maybe she'll find the answer after expirencing love?who knows.
(anyway, great album-buy it,now!)
on April 8, 2002
Its also the most different album from the rest of her work. The focus really isn't on the guitar so much this time around, its a very electronic-sounding album. All the albums before this one have always sounded somewhat dated to me, with a production style that got the job done but was sometimes a little bit sloppy and definately nothing special. This one sounds superb though, its got that really fluid style of perfectly balanced, smooth production that Flood is known for. There's also synthesizers all over this album, and they sound great, laying down these somewhat spooky sounding chords in the background.
Its also really dark, probably more so than her other work, and that's saying something. Songs like track #4 and 7 have the bass cranked way up, on #4 in particular its cranked so loud that it's almost annoying, my least favorite song on the album but still great. They lyrics are excellent as well, totally dark and spooky, with this detached quality to them that's a pretty awesome deparature from the introspective lyrics most artists tend to use. She sings songs about other women or from their point of view, with the creepy Catherine being one of the high points. A Perfect Day Elise was one of the best singles of 1998, with its story of a girl's murder and lyrics like "God is the sweat running down her back, the water soaked her blonde hair black." The Sky Lit Up is just short and frantic, with the music matching the lyrics perfectly, and The River is probably PJ Harvey's saddest song ever, a piano ballad that's quite the departure from her earlier work. I don't think I'll ever get sick of the album, its practically flawless. And even though its her most mature and artistic album, this is by no means a soft album of ballads. The song Track No Girl So Sweet is probably more crazy and psychotic sounding than anything on Rid of Me, starting out with a techno-sounding electronic loop and then quickly getting all wild and scary. I think if you'd listen to this album by yourself outdoors on a dark night, it would be a really scary experience.
The critics never really liked this one as much as her other work, god knows why, because as a whole this album is definately her most innovative, and I really wish she would have kept going with what she had started here instead of going all Prada with Stories From the City. Its kind of depressing, because so many artists put out great albums in 1998 and then just went downhill from there. The same thing happened to Tori Amos, who put out the amazing From the Choirgirl Hotel and then got all weak. Anyhow, if you buy just one PJ Harvey album get this one, its nothing like her other stuff but easily my favorite.