There’s a moment on Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea that erases any doubts that a listener made a right purchase.
It happens toward the end of “The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore.” Polly Jean Harvey hits a stratospheric note with blood-curdling precision, and yet her husky voice gives that wail-like tone a ruddy color.
And that pretty much speaks volumes to what Harvey does with her voice throughout this album.
Within a single track, Harvey can move from gutteral chant to sweet croon, from quiet deadpan to soaring falsetto, from introspective whisper to forceful directness.
And the songs on Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea provide ample opportunity for Harvey to flex her remarkable control.
The album starts off with Harvey practically bellowing at her audience on “Big Exit,” but when the chorus hits, she delivers a pristine soprano. Later, she draws in on “One Line,” layering her voice in an ethereal choir.
And just when you didn’t think Harvey couldn’t do any better, along comes Radiohead’s Thom Yorke to accenuate Harvey’s more bittersweet range.
Although Harvey is an excellent songwriter in any setting, it’s the harder tracks on Stories that leave a more lasting impression.
Her wail sounds wonderfully eerie on “Kamikaze.” “Is This Love” has one of those dirty grooves that just feels way too fun, and the appropriately titled “We Float” features a chorus that does exactly that.
But PJ Harvey the songwriter isn’t the star on Stories — it’s Harvey’s incredible vox.