We give our take on new albums coming out from PJ Harvey, Joni Mitchell, R. Kelly, and more
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PJ HARVEY Is This Desire?
The song titles on her fifth album — ”The Wind,” ”The Garden,” ”Joy” — portend something New Agey and soft. Fear not. Polly Jean is back with threatening, rawhearted rock (”Till the light shines on me, I damn to hell every second you breathe”) and haunted, backwoods ballads. Don’t even think of getting rid of her.

ELVIS COSTELLO WITH BURT BACHARACH Painted From Memory
With his first release for Mercury Records, Costello plays crooning muse to legendary balladeer Bacharach. The result? A dozen masterfully crafted paeans to lost love, in which Costello trades snark for sincerity. ”It’s more hip than trying to scowl and stare the camera down,” he says. ”I’ve been staring the camera down for 25 years. I’m getting tired of squinting.”

KIRK FRANKLIN The Nu Nation Project
After recording one of the biggest-selling gospel records in history, the double-platinum God’s Property (1997), America’s most successful Mr. Clean steps back to the pulpit with some assistance from the divine voices of Bono, R. Kelly, and Mary J. Blige. Testifying like a latter-day Rev. Al Green, Franklin promises ”music for the church — and the street.”

JONI MITCHELL Taming The Tiger
Is that really Mitchell singing a song with the chorus ”Happiness is the best face lift”? ”I finally got to the place where I crave levity,” she explains. ”I want to do comedy or something! I’m tired of drama.” But don’t worry — there’s still enough righteous anger to go around in some sparsely arranged songs about sexism and showbiz.

UNKLE Psyence Fiction
This collaboration between hip British label head James Lavelle and even hipper hip-hopper DJ Shadow (below) features guests like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft, and the Beastie Boys’ Mike D. Isn’t Lavelle worried the album’s subtle electronic sounds will get lost in all the star power? ”It’s a concern,” Lavelle admits. ”But I think it’s a good record, and I hope in the long term it will overshadow the hype.”

JOHN MELLENCAMP John Mellencamp
”It’s not cool to like John Mellencamp,” admits the singer. Maybe not, but so what? His first album for Columbia Records (”Mercury didn’t care about me,” he says of his former label of 22 years) is yet another smartly crafted blend of rootsy rock and contemporary pop that’s sure to please fans turned off by 1996’s ho-hum Mr. Happy Go Lucky.

P.M. DAWN Dearest Christian, I’m So Very Sorry For Bringing You Here. Love, Dad The Day-Glo duo’s first album since 1995’s underwhelming Jesus Wept is a mind-expanding blend of heavenly vocals and billowy production, but don’t try to play Spot the Sample: For the first time Prince Be and DJ Minutemix decided to leave their vintage vinyl at home and use real musicians. ”We wanted to freak things up a bit,” says Prince Be. ”It came out a lot more intimate this way.”

DUNCAN SHEIK Humming After what Sheik terms the ”mixed blessing” of his 1997 hit ”Barely Breathing,” he contemplated a ”super-esoteric, obscure” record. But ultimately, thoughtful, string-laden art pop prevailed. ”I realized in this cultural milieu, if you go too far either way (a) nobody will ever hear or understand it, or (b) it’s just a piece of pop junk.”

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