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. This is Harvey in contemplative mood, sailing a low-key stream of consciousness fuelled by the fragility of the human heart.
Though mostly self-penned, the cycle does appropriate other people’s songs to drive the narrative; Van Morrison’s The Way Young Lovers Do is stripped to a near-naked eulogy, with voice accompanied solely by a hymnal organ, while a subdued version of Roy Orbison’s Wild Hearts Run Out Of Time plays its part to signal the end of a romance. More so than anything in Harvey’s back catalogue, FOUR impresses with its purity, simplicity, accessibility and lack of pretension.