Release Date: Jun 11, 2013
Record label: Mute
Mick Harvey's sixth solo offering, Four (Acts of Love) is a deeply personal song cycle in three parts, which examines the glories, losses, and struggles in and around romantic love and the human experience. Aided by Rosie Westbrook on double bass and J.P. Shilo on electric guitars and violin, Harvey sculpts his meditation with sparse production in a series of original songs and well-chosen, radically reimagined covers.
Harvey’s last album, 2011’s Sketches From The Book Of The Dead, was a series of ruminations on people and places lost, and there’s a similar delicate beauty to FOUR (Acts Of Love). However, the erstwhile Nick Cave and PJ Harvey alumni only rarely mines richer seams of optimism in this song cycle themed around romantic love. Echoes of Harvey’s work with The Bad Seeds haunt many of the tracks, not least the grandeur balladry of I Wish That I Were A Stone (“like gargoyles at the cathedral”), though the starry-eyed melodrama of Richard Hawley is a stronger reference point on the balletic opener Praise The Earth.
It's quite ironic that a couple of months after the release of Push The Sky Away, the first Bad Seeds album without mastermind Mick Harvey, the first glimpse you get of Mick's return as a solo songwriter is the starlit sky featured on the cover. But let's not get carried away. As Mick has explained after the release of his latest Sketches from the Book of the Dead, his decision to suspend the 36 years professional relationship with Nick Cave was as much pondered as liberating.
Love is a burning thing. Or the drug. Or all you need, depending on who you listen to. Any which way, it has been an artist’s muse, since art began. So on this, his sixth solo album, Mick Harvey is a songwriter charting extremely familiar territory. So familiar in fact that at the heart of Four ….
Pinpointing Mick Harvey’s identity as a musician has always required a little triangulation. Of his three main points of reference, the closest is Nick Cave, whom Harvey played with in their fledgling band Boys Next Door, then the Birthday Party, and on to the Bad Seeds-- whose primal menace and eerie tenderness Harvey added to immeasurably. Harvey also spent years in Simon Bonney’s collective Crime and the City Solution; by the 90s he’d added a third coordinate, French pop legend Serge Gainsbourg, the source of material for his first two solo albums, 1995’s Intoxicated Man and 1997’s Pink Elephants, the latter of which dared to offer a single Harvey composition.
An annoying strategy of music critics is inserting themselves into a review by recounting a “musical coming of age” experience, in the process spending more time talking about themselves than sizing up a current release. That is what I’m about to do: when I heard Mick Harvey’s Intoxicated Man and Pink Elephants for the first time, my reasons for loving the Bad Seeds became so much clearer. Two albums of Serge Gainsbourg cover songs of course have more than a bit to do with Gainsbourg himself, but my mind doesn’t consider things in that manner.
As a solo artist, Mick Harvey has always felt a little slight. His catalog consists mainly of covers, and although the instrumentation has varied from album to album, none of his music has reached the gothically dramatic heights of his work with The Birthday Party or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Then again, maybe that’s the point. There was a reason Harvey ended his 36-year collaboration with Cave in 2009, and it wasn’t to play songs that were identical to his past.
Mick Harvey has spent so much of his career in the background – as a producer, soundtrack composer and musician in ensembles like the Birthday Party, Crime & the City Solution and the Bad Seeds – that’s it’s almost a surprise to realize Four (Acts of Love) is his sixth solo album. As might be inferred from the title, this record is a concept piece of sorts, not so much in a narrative sense, but in a thematic one. Divided into four sections, Harvey ruminates on l’amour in its many permutations: lost, found, unrequited, unwanted.
The sixth solo album from former Birthday Party, Bad Seeds and Crime and the City Solution mainstay Harvey is an oceanic affair. The songs seem to appear and recede like tides, overlapping, flowing into one another. There are calms and there are swells, and these are most obviously represented by the album's clearly stated three act structure. Act One, 'Summertime in New York', is a gathering of energies, the still surface ruffled by an ominous breeze; the unwanted, unasked-for sensation of falling in love.
Love has been inspiring and confounding artists for time eternal. And that elusive search for intimacy and meaning has certainly permeated Mick Harvey’s fruitful 36-year musical partnership with Nick Cave, as the duo penned numerous indelible numbers together that delved deep into the dark affairs of the heart, as well as the complications that arise from giving or taking away a vulnerable part of yourself from someone you hold dear. Harvey left behind Cave’s Bad Seeds in 2009, but the talented Australian multi-instrumentalist has still boldly continued to explore the raw passion that pulses at the creative heart of any and all meaningful music.