It's not entirely fair to say that PJ Harvey's new release doesn't measure up to her magnificent and terrifying "To Bring You My Love." But there seems to be something missing from the hushed, tremulous songs on "Is This Desire?" It's as though Polly Jean Harvey won't allow herself to express the urgency that characterized her previous efforts. While rumor had it that "Desire" would contain less pain, the ache is still there rumbling beneath the surface.
The difference is in the music. Songs such as the title track and "Angelene" are little more than Harvey's haunted (and haunting) voice over fine-spun backing piano and guitar, while "The Sky Lit Up" and "A Perfect Day Elise" are relatively sedate, measured rockers. Weaving unsettling mininarratives, Harvey is in prime fairy-tale mode and at times seems tuned in to the Brothers Grimm. In "The Garden," she assumes the role of a man speaking to his songbird: I will give you golden mountains/ If you stay awhile with me.
But there is no Prince Charming in Harvey's world -- and no happily ever after.