PJ Harvey has been releasing demo versions of her albums over the last few months. Of all the ones that have been released so far though, its ‘Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea’ that feels the most different stylistically from its final form. Whilst fans will enjoy all the demos released, this is really the biggest statement of difference from the set.
The reason for this is that PJ Harvey made this her polished rock album. The guitars jangle. The riffs are stable and sharp. PJ Harvey is as straight and direct as she has ever been. It is her ‘mainstream’ form if ever she had one. This means that a demo has a long way to backtrack to compared to other albums, which are rawer in their final versions. Here, every track bar ‘Kamikaze’ is pulled back to either a guitar and vocal version or a ‘plugged acoustic guitar’ and vocal version. Hearing ‘Good Fortune’ as a strumming anthem instead of its striding full band is great. ‘A Place Called Home’ is accordion led which doesn’t appear in the final version at all. ‘This Mess We’re In’ is all PJ Harvey and no Thom Yorke.
The only track that stays the same is ‘Beautiful Feeling’ which could possibly be identical to the final version. I always felt that track was recorded differently – maybe it is the demo that made it? ‘We Float’ gets to enjoy some basic drum looping over very rudimentary keyboard notes but you can hear the genesis of a different feel coming together. PJ Harvey said she didn’t really do piano until ‘White Chalk’ so the barebones approach shows and shines. Elsewhere, vocal effects used to damage and enrage her voice are in full flow too. It is interesting to hear how a feeling is fleshed out from demo to record this way. It also makes me appreciate old news anew again by hearing them in a new light.
Are these demo album releases essential? No. In general, I’ve been a bit surprised at how closely they resemble the final version – especially with Is This Desire? – where I expected vast changes. If you are looking for the largest disparity and change-ups between demo and release – it is this collection that will give you that. The magic shines regardless though.
Recommended track: Good Fortune
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