Is This Desire?

Last updated on 30 September 2017

Is This Desire? is the fourth studio album by English musician PJ Harvey, released on 28 September 1998 on Island Records.

Is This Desire.jpg
Two sepia images of a woman beside a river. Black text in block capitals above the images read "PJ Harvey" and handwritten text in block capitals underneath the images reads "Is This Desire?".


Recorded on and off in Dorset and London between April 1997 and April 1998, it was co-produced by Flood, Head and Harvey herself, and featured instrumental contributions from Rob Ellis, John Parish, Mick Harvey, Eric Drew Feldman, Joe Gore and Jeremy Hogg. It marked a move away from Harvey’s earlier guitar-driven rock style into subtler, quieter, atmospheric soundscapes and mood pieces based around keyboards, bass and electronics.

Harvey spoke about the making of the album in an interview with Filter magazine in 2004, indicating it was the project of which, to date, she was proudest. "Again working with Flood, again trying to find new ground, but a particularly difficult time in my life. So, it was a very, very difficult, difficult record to make and still one I find very difficult to listen to, but probably my favorite record that I've made because it had a lot of guts. I mean, I was making extremely difficult music, experimenting with techniques I hadn't used before and not really caring what other people thought about it. I'm quite proud of that one." She also told The Telegraph, "I do think Is This Desire? is the best record I ever made—maybe ever will make—and I feel that that was probably the highlight of my career. I gave 100 per cent of myself to that record. Maybe that was detrimental to my health at the same time."

It is the first PJ Harvey album to feature lyrics printed on the inner sleeve.

The song "The Wind" was inspired by Saint Catherine, and in particular St Catherine's Chapel, Abbotsbury.[3][4] The lyrics discuss the chapel's location on top of a hill, and end with an inversion of a traditional prayer which women used at the chapel to pray for a husband.[3][5] The village of Abbotsbury is near PJ Harvey's home.[6]


The experimental and less bombastic style that Harvey explored on the record drew mixed reception from fans. Critical reviews were generally positive, however. Q magazine praised the record as "disturbing and excellent", CMJ called it "another milestone in her already illustrious career", and Entertainment Weekly said it "seethes with hypnotic power";[9] the magazine Dazed & Confused claimed "Is This Desire? will be a classic of the next 10 if not 20 years. It has the impeccable timing of jazz, the arrangement of a classic dance track, the depth of an orchestral symphony and the emotional charge of gospel." It received a Grammy Award nomination as Best Alternative Music Performance of 1998. Although it did not sell as well as her 1995 commercial breakthrough To Bring You My Love, it did spawn her biggest UK hit with the single "A Perfect Day Elise"; a second single, "The Wind", charted on the UK Top 30.

Track listing

All tracks written by PJ Harvey.

No. Title Length
1. "Angelene" 3:34
2. "The Sky Lit Up" 1:52
3. "The Wind" 4:01
4. "My Beautiful Leah" 1:59
5. "A Perfect Day Elise" 3:06
6. "Catherine" 4:05
7. "Electric Light" 3:04
8. "The Garden" 4:12
9. "Joy" 3:40
10. "The River" 4:52
11. "No Girl So Sweet" 2:45
12. "Is This Desire?" 3:25
Total length: 40:24


All personnel credits adapted from the album's liner notes.[17]


Additional musicians



  • Maria Mochnacz – art direction, design, photography
  • Rob Crane – art direction, design
  • PJ Harvey – photography
  • Julia Hember – photography
  • Nick Daly – photography


Chart (1998) Peak
Australian ARIA Albums Chart[18] 30
Belgian Albums Chart (Vl)[19] 8
Belgian Albums Chart (Wa)[19] 50
Canadian Albums Chart[20] 59
Dutch Top 100[21] 74
French SNEP Albums Chart[22] 9
Norwegian Albums Chart[23] 5
Swedish Albums Chart[24] 19
UK Albums Chart[25] 17
US Billboard 200[26] 54


Year Single Peak chart positions
US Mod
1998 "A Perfect Day Elise" 83 15 70 25 33
1999 "The Wind" 29


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
France (SNEP)[28] Gold 50,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[29] Silver 60,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone

As of 1999 the album has reached half a million sales worldwide according to Billboard. [30]


  1. ^ Woodhouse, Alan (12 September 2005). "PJ Harvey: London Shepherd's Bush Empire". NME. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  2. ^ Thompson, Stephen (29 March 2002). "PJ Harvey: Is This Desire?". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  3. ^ a b "The Legend of St Catherine". Retrieved 2009-03-19.
  4. ^ "god_stcat". Archived from the original on 9 August 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-19.
  5. ^ "St Catherine's Chapel, Abbotsbury". Retrieved 2009-03-19.
  6. ^ Harris, John (27 September 2007). "Songs of innocence and experience". The Guardian. Film & Music p. 10. Retrieved 19 March 2009. Posted on 28 September 2007.
  7. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Is This Desire? – PJ Harvey". AllMusic. Retrieved 28 June 2004.
  8. ^ DeRogatis, Jim (29 September 1998). "New songs, familiar voices". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 16 October 2016. (Subscription required (help)).
  9. ^ a b Weingarten, Marc (2 October 1998). "Is This Desire?". Entertainment Weekly (452): 74. Retrieved 21 February 2009.
  10. ^ Boehm, Mike (27 September 1998). "Four-Star Performers". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 August 2010.
  11. ^ Oldham, James (22 September 1998). "PJ Harvey – Is This Desire?". NME. Archived from the original on 2 October 2000. Retrieved 7 May 2016.
  12. ^ Fowler, Shan. "PJ Harvey: Is This Desire?". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 14 October 2000. Retrieved 27 June 2016.
  13. ^ "PJ Harvey: Is This Desire?". Q (146): 120. November 1998.
  14. ^ Sheffield, Rob (15 October 1998). "Is This Desire?". Rolling Stone (797). Archived from the original on 12 November 2007. Retrieved 28 June 2004.
  15. ^ Vowell, Sarah (November 1998). "PJ Harvey: Is This Desire?". Spin. 14 (11): 138. Retrieved 21 October 2011.
  16. ^ Christgau, Robert (15 December 1998). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
  17. ^ Is This Desire? (CD). PJ Harvey. Island Records. 1998. LC 0407.
  18. ^ "PJ Harvey – Is This Desire?". Hung Medien. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
  19. ^ a b "PJ Harvey – Is This Desire?". Ultratop. Hung Medien. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
  20. ^ "RPM Top 100 CDs – November 16, 1998" (PDF). RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
  21. ^ "PJ Harvey – Is This Desire?". Hung Medien. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
  22. ^ a b "Discographie PJ Harvey". Hung Medien. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
  23. ^ "PJ Harvey – Is This Desire?". Hung Medien. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
  24. ^ "PJ Harvey – Is This Desire?". Hung Medien. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
  25. ^ a b "PJ Harvey | Artist". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
  26. ^ a b Is This Desire? – PJ Harvey: Awards at AllMusic. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
  27. ^ "RPM Alternative 30 – November 2, 1998" (PDF). RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
  28. ^ "French album certifications – PJ Harvey – Is This Desire?" (in French). Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
  29. ^ "British album certifications – PJ Harvey – Is This Desire?". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 12 April 2012. Enter Is This Desire? in the search field and then press Enter.
  30. ^

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