In her previous efforts, To Bring You My Love and Is This Desire, P.J. Harvey placed herself somewhere in the maelstrom of edgy, confrontational and sexually brazen feminism. Mixing in the dark and powerful company of such modern muses as Liz Phair, Kristin Hersh and Garbage, Harvey nevertheless retained her highly individual voice. Cultivating a more punk-influenced sound and a bleaker outlook than most of her musical peers, Harvey -- of all of them -- would seem to be the most unlikely to be changed by happiness.
That's only partially true. While Stories from the City chronicles a love affair that could be either fictional or Harvey's own, the brooding intensity of her earlier works remains constant throughout. The album's opener "Big Exit," with its jangly chords and Harvey's harsh vocals, asks why, in this violent and unpredictable world, would anyone bother to fall in love. The answer lies in the eleven tracks to follow. Evoking disconnection and longing in layers of aural effects, Harvey nevertheless runs us through the paces of a doomed -- but dreamy -- love. "One Line" summons up the obsessive, hungry face of new love, followed by the tense ruminations of "Beautiful Feeling." "He's the best thing," sings Harvey, sounding haunted by the kind of love you just can't walk away from. By the kicky, responsive "This is Love," we know this isn't going to last, but by then, we don't care. We're just along for the ride.