PJ Harvey is one of the great songwriters of her generation, and this album is another fine example of her abilities. but the record marks a bit of a change in aesthetic for her (as far as I know) that I don’t exactly love.
So this is a good set of songs. It has two particularly notable songs for her career, the famous duet with Thom Yorke and the first of her songs I’ve ever heard, “Good Fortune”. (I’m not sure I’d like “Good Fortune” if I heard it now. But it really was the first PJ Harvey song I ever heard, so I know it well.) But the rest of the material is mostly up to her very high standard. Though I’ve heard only about half of her albums at this point, I think the song quality here is pretty comparable to some of her best work.
The issue for me and, I think, for a lot of fans, is the aesthetic, one which is way more polished than her early records and far less risky (for her) than Is This Desire?, the previous album. Musically it might be her least interesting record to date – well, at the very least it’s the least raw or naked (or whatever word you prefer). And that’s a problem for many of us when a great part of her appeal was her edge.
But it sounds good anyway – this is not a record that is “over produced” in the conventional sense of the term. It is only relatively over-produced, given the nature of Harvey’s early albums and how raw they are.
In the end, for me, it’s saved by its material, which is quite strong. The album will likely never be a favourite of mine, given that I really do love her early aesthetic – and sort of think it’s central to her songs being as captivating as they are. But I think the material here is good enough that I can overlook the relative polish.