PJ Harvey's one constant is attitude. Musically the 41-year-old British singer-songwriter shifts and evolves with each album, a chameleon always in love with a new style but consistent in her punkish irreverence. We've seen eight albums since her 1992 debut, and her latest, February's Let England Shake, has already received numerous rave reviews. But Let England Shake offers ethereal, coy melodies about Britain's past. Like White Chalk, Harvey's album from 2007, its songs are gentle--impressive but hardly rock 'n' roll.
To hear PJ Harvey as she's meant to be heard, return to her Mercury Prize-winning 2000 release, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. Anthems like "Good Fortune" and "This is Love" carry a raw edge on top of polished rock beats. Consider "Good Fortune": the lyrics aren't especially remarkable--the younger Polly Jean sings of love, of the affection in hungover Chinatown mornings and the urge to take her good luck and lover and run off "like some modern-day Bonnie and Clyde." The imagery flickers through Little Italy, a lover's face, hints of past desperation and disbelief at present happiness.
But what makes a song like "Good Fortune" work is not the cleverness we see on so many of Harvey's album; its virtue is unabashed strength of personality, nervous and a little neurotic yet so completely confident in musical execution, traits shining through all these songs both lyrically and instrumentally, a simple, sexy allure begun in breakthrough singles 1995's "Down By The Water" and perfected here. As admirable as Let England Shake may be, its tracks rarely come close to the aggressively romantic thrill driving Harvey's songs a decade ago.
On iTunes: PJ Harvey / "Good Fortune"