Four (Acts of Love)
I’ve always struggled with Mick Harvey’s solo albums – I want to like them more than I do. Well, I’m not even sure I end up wanting to like them at all actually, all I mean is here’s a guy who has been a great supporting hand (Bad Seeds, PJ Harvey) but I never really feel it when he’s doing the solo records and I know there’s a lot of talent there.
Well, his latest, a themed record of love songs and songs about love (there’s a difference) is magnificent. A career best – and the sort of record that deserves to exist in its own space, away from his canon; not that anyone should be embarrassed to stack this alongside other Harvey albums and it certainly builds, in part, on some of the mood from 2011’s Sketches From The Book of The Dead (so it’s no total surprise within his oeuvre, it’s just head-and-shoulders his best).
Here the work as soundtrack composer, as collaborator makes sense but he’s got the songs to go with it and the covers are startlingly good – it’s like everything is aligned, finally. The separation from Nick Cave is clear – it’s nearing half a decade now. The original material that formed Book of The Dead lit a fire compositionally. And then back to his work with the Bad Seeds and across his other solo albums to choose ways to pick strong songs to cover; in this case songs that fit – and flesh out – his theme.
The many sides of love, or romance, are explored through the covers and originals – often it feels like the cover songs take if not a starring role then some important cameo but it’s Harvey’s originals that provide the script, the nuts and bolts of it anyway, in this cinematic song cycle.
It feels like Tim Winton doing tone-poems and you can hear all of the great things Harvey has picked up from his other gigs over the years – but here he makes them his own. God Made The Hammer feels like the sort of song Cave would be proud of, Midnight On The Ramparts, a sort of David Lynch-ian prairie-song is a fine coda for PJ Harvey’s Glorious.
He even manages to do Roy Orbison sadder than Orbison on Wild Hearts.
But it’s the way these songs curl in and around each other that makes the album – and the economy of Harvey’s songs – many of them song-snippets – is often truly remarkable. If you thought The Magnetic Fields or for that matter Guided By Voices packed a lot in to a sub two-minute song then you’ll be wowed by I Wish That I Were Stone. It’s so weighty (as its title hopefully suggests) that it hints at Springsteen and Cave and Cash and Tom Waits in Mule Variations-ballad mode and does all of this – as well as almost stopping your heart with its majesty – in just over 90 seconds.
Economy is crucial to this album’s force – it’s just over half an hour long, 14 songs. So many of them would seem to flit by from reading the tracklisting but there’s a deceptive strength – and alluring lug – to them. They drift and waft, they’re pulled rather than pushed. They don’t take their time, but they in fact make their time.
When I said earlier that this album deserved to stand on its own I guess what I really meant was that it’s an album that deserves to be loved for its theme(s), its sound and mood – not (just) because of who made it. It’s almost irrelevant that the name on the spine is Mick Harvey. For here is a set of brilliantly crafted pieces. But then it’s completely relevant that Mick Harvey made it. For this is the album of his career. This is his masterpiece. This is a gorgeous record, so noble, strong, proud. A mini epic.
And I’m off to give some of his other records another go now. I have to…