In the wake of her recent Mercury prize win, I re-visted the album that did it for her first time round. Originally published in The Student, September 2011.
Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea is an eternal favourite of mine, a reliable soundtrack and an old friend. I first truly fell for it on holiday in Berlin where Good Fortune was part of a loop of music videos on the underground. This song –released in the UK in November 2000 – quickly became one of those rare but beautiful tracks that I just couldn’t stop thinking about. I wanted to stay on trains for longer in case it came on; the lyrics – and that first “loo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-ove” – echoed in my head. Even now, it’s a rare week that I don’t find myself yearning to listen to it. I suppose the infatuation is helped by that perfect synthesis of place and time: arty, bohemian East Berlin was the ideal location to hear a song about arty, bohemian love and, as a shy fourteen year old, having a lover “too beautiful to put it to words” or to drift about with “in Chinatown, hungover” seemed impossibly glamorous and romantic.
What is truly remarkable about this album is its celebration of life in all its glory and pain and mundanity. Songs like Good Fortune and This is Love are all the more joyous in their rip-roaring, wailing adoration (“I can’t believe life is so complex, when I just want to sit here and watch you undress”) when paired with the tense melancholia of This Mess We’re In or One Line. In the former, Harvey shares vocals with Thom Yorke. Their voices call, respond, and eventually become intertwined, haunting and desperate. Big emotions are easy prey for someone with Harvey’s lyrical ability and vocal range, but she deals equally beautifully with acceptance of the ordinary in We Float and You Said Something.
This album has accompanied me through train journeys, break ups, first kisses, countless walks and long nights. Of the many records I have listened to in the decade since its release it remains the one with more personal attachments than, probably, any other. Each track’s individual story intermingles in my mind with my own memories. And as a whole it is a glorious, life-affirming representation of human existence.