October 19, 1998 12:00 PM

PJ Harvey (Island)

Album of the week

“Is this desire enough to lift us higher?” Polly Jean Harvey wonders rhetorically on the title track of her riveting fifth album. Your own answer to this classic come-on will depend upon whether or not the British singer’s sultry alto sends shivers down your spine. A critic’s darling, Harvey combines certified hummability with an avant-garde urge to provoke. The album’s gem is “Angelene,” a lush, minor-key masterpiece (with muted electric guitars and eerie funeral-parlor organ) whose subject is the “prettiest mess you’ve ever seen.” Though only 29, the native of rural Somerset imbues her gothic tales and stark arrangements with a world-weariness as convincing as that of a blues singer twice her age. A revelatory mix of classic rock, roadhouse R&B and cutting-edge dance music, Desire transcends the dark, brooding thoughts that no doubt inspired it.

Bottom Line: Near-perfect outing from rock’s anti-diva

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