Here, finally, is the true heir to Harvey's 1995 album "To Bring You My Love," the collection that placed her among the most compelling, innovative rockers to emerge in the '90s.
True, this alternately stark and lush recording's blend of watery and stentorian guitars, naked percussion and piquant keyboards sounds more like thoroughly modern garage-rock than the twisted musical that "Love" evoked. Yet the album (due in stores Tuesday) offers a similar fusion of her early punk-blues fury and her pop-cabaret theatricality, incorporating such raw numbers as "Kamikaze" and such airy bits as "We Float" without appearing contradictory or contrived.
Harvey is again telling tales to an audience, rather than basically talking to herself as on 1998's pensive "Is This Desire?" Predictably, her messages involve lust, power, salvation and damnation, but she finds fresh inspiration in the titular contrast between her rural English home and time recently spent in New York.
Her singing often recalls Patti Smith and Siouxsie Sioux, artists who, like Harvey, project a sexuality derived from--yet never bound by--rock's male sensibilities. A few tunes, such as the fearsome come-on "This Is Love," clearly state their intentions, but most are typically oblique. Still, as she shows with the sketchy erotic lament "This Mess We're In" (a duet with Radiohead's Thom Yorke), Harvey speaks volumes in what's left unsaid.