Review #313: Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, PJ Harvey

Karla Clifton
3 min readSep 13, 2022

#313: Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, PJ Harvey

First of all, thank God for some 2000s Girl representation. (Adding Michelle Branch to my own personal Top 500 Albums of All Time list.) Harvey looks like a young Patti Smith on the cover of Seventeen Magazine, 2002–2012. Those sunglasses, those bangs, that bag … wow. Some people really did make that stuff look cool. (Though I guess only if you resemble a Tolkien elf.)

It seems to take about 20 years for cultural artifacts to go from cool to cringe-worthy to nostalgically cool, and the early aughts are just now reaching that point. (I can’t wait for everyone to get embarrassed for Post Malone in ten years, then come back around to him in another ten years.) So we can finally all admit it: 2000s music rocked. But specifically, New York City early 2000s music rocked. Not just the Strokes but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, & Vampire Weekend. And in 1999, PJ Harvey lived in New York for nearly a year, putting her right on the precipice of it.

It is weird to hear her sing about all these New York haunts and neighborhoods with her British accent, specifically on “Good Fortune,” because of how the word fortune sounds in British. But I love the image of her standing on top of a rooftop in Brooklyn just scanning the area on “You Said Something.” Not every song is explicitly about New York, but New York is in all of them, know what I mean?

To me, though, it’s not just a celebration of NYC, but a timestamp of the arthouse 2000s rock scene. “This Mess We’re In” (and a few other songs) has Thom freaking Yorke, the guy that turned Radiohead into a robot. And I adored her Bjork impression on “Horses In My Dreams.” It’s warbly, it’s weird, it’s pianos and guitars and keyboards scraped up with sandpaper.

The last Harvey record was #152, Rid of Me, an acerbic, grungy, sloppy second album. This one isn’t so messy. I love the quote on her Wiki page about wanting to make “everything sound as beautiful as possible,” instead of “dreadful … dark, unsettling, nauseous-making sounds.” “Beautiful Feeling” is certainly beautiful, with it’s frank lyrics and its low, cutting guitar. The way she uses reverb on “A Place Called Home” is almost as great as her versatile vocals. She jumps from the huskiness of “One Line” (which has Thom Yorke in the background like a ghost) to the mumblecore/soaring soprano closer “We Float.”

But she’s still a badass. “Big Exit” is a massive entrance. She’s immortal when she’s with you, but she still wants a pistol in her hand. I love when she leans into being a little bit metal (“The Whore’s Hustle and the Hustler’s Whore” and the scary-telephone-voice “Kamikaze”). “This Is Love” is practically space-age sludge.

In an absolutely horrible coincidence, PJ Harvey won the UK’s Mercury Prize on September 11, 2001, and actually witnessed the attacks on the Pentagon. Trapped in DC, she had to accept the award by phone. She said, “It has been a very surreal day. All I can say is thank you very much, I am absolutely stunned.”

So sorry about the lateness of this review. I opted to separate PJ Harvey from 9/11 by a few days.

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