Sound — 9
There's a reason why Polly Jean Harvey is often voted the best female artist in rock and it's because she consistently makes great music. Her latest release, White Chalk, has seen her move away from the sex-laden guitar work that worked so well on this 2000 release. As good as moody pianos are, I prefer the sex. Harvey said before Stories... release that she wanted the album "to sound as beautiful as possible" and at times, it does soar. "One Line" is a great example, a rather nice song itself boosted by a terrific instrumental arrangement. Whether it is a comment on the 'City' and 'Sea' of the albums title, the songs can be clearly divided into two groups. Whereas "Beautiful Thing" and "Horses in My Dreams" show of the softer of Harvey, vocally and as a songwriter, these tracks are in stark contrast to the dirtier parts of the album. Opener "Big Exit" is a stomping track, loud and brash with "The Whores Hustler and the Hustlers Whore" taking a similar route. All together, it's a wonderfully produced record.
Lyrics — 9
Though the music can be placed in to distinct groups, lyrically, things aren't so clear cut. It's not that they're ambiguous, "This Mess We're In" manages to paint a particularly vivid image, it's that every track seems to contain the same themes. The song just mentioned fits into this theory, one of the softer tracks, it still manages to embody loneliness, despair and of course, sex. It's also a vocal highpoint, Harvey's tone perfectly complementing guest Thom Yorke to make a stand-out duet. One of the best things about her voice is its flexibility; hence the move to the cries of "This is Love", stronger and full of force. When combined with lines such as "I can't believe that life's so complex, when I just want to sit here and watch you undress", it's clear what she's trying to convey.
Overall Impression — 9
Now a frequent visitor to many magazines Top 100 albums of all time, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea is certainly Harvey's best record to date. It seems the album was recorded just as her creativity reached it's rocking peak, though that's not to say she won't reach such heady heights again. If there's one thing PJ Harvey should have taught us all, it's not to try and predict what she'll do next. As high points go, the previously mentioned duet with Yorke is certainly it, miles above the lesser tracks on the album ("Kamikaze", "You Said Something"). Altogether, a slick-yet-rough album from a woman who continuously proves she is one of Britain's biggest talents.