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  Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea  
  P. J. Harvey  
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About a year ago, I was looking for new music to enjoy, something that I hadn't heard but would fit into my tastes well. A friend recommended that I get some P. J. Harvey -- right up your alley, he said. Sometimes when people make those recommendations, they are way off base; at other times it's amazing how they understand your passions. In the case of P. J. Harvey, my friend was almost too perceptive.

What do I mean? Well, as a big Patti Smith and Lou Reed fan, P. J. Harvey is the next logical step, especially Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. Even more so than her last release, Is This Desire?, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea has the feel of Reed-like spoken word, spinning tales of the dark side of New York -- the loneliness and the seediness of the big city. On songs like You Said Something, the music is overwhelmingly melancholy, soft and slow with little instrumentation beyond deep bass and guitar. But the lyrics are rich with imagery, including lines like "I see five bridges / The Empire State Building / And you said something / That I've never forgotten." Unlike Reed's New York, though, the lyrics are often esoteric, more mood-generating than storytelling. And, there are few strong anthems to counter what is often a dirge-like progression of slow melodies, especially on the album's second half.

While Harvey's cityscape lyrics and theme-driven album remind me of Lou Reed, her voice is decidedly that of a female power rocker like Patti Smith. She seems to have lowered her vocals almost an octave from the last release, concentrating more on deep, raw whispers than on producing sing-song melodies. Like Smith's Gung Ho, Harvey seems to want the message to take center stage rather than the vocal stylings. On a noteworthy anthem-like standout, Big Exit, Harvey shows her ability to belt out passion on the level of Smith; I am left wishing that there were even more songs like that sprinkled throughout the album. Perhaps the greatest surprise to me is Harvey's hint at another female rocker, Melissa Etheridge. On A Place Called Home, in particular, Harvey's gritty vocals, along with a soft driving beat, bear a striking resemblance to Ethridge's more contemporary sound, as opposed to the older sounds of Smith or Reed.

Most of the album, especially the second half, is beautiful mood music. But, this strength is also the album's drawback; I am left looking for a bit more style and passion. The artistry is solid, and the lyrics are poignant, if not as substantial as Reed or Smith. Perhaps because my tastes have become spoiled by those two legends, I am left with a tinge of disappointment in my friend's suggestion. But, Harvey is showing a maturity on this album that bodes well for the future, and I hope her next release continues on this track, with maybe a little more song variety and even richer, more concrete lyrics.

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