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. In Part One, "Summertime in New York" (named for the Exuma tune, which he delivers with a Waits-ian swagger and strut), he delivers the unreleased PJ Harvey tune "Glorious." Played midtempo with dirty, dirgy, guitars, he delivers the lyrics -- so sick with desire and blindness they're dangerous -- with a barely restrained hunger. In Part Two, titled for the Saints' "The Story of Love," he offers a slower, more brooding and turbulent read of Van Morrison's "The Way Young Lovers Do." The protagonist is a middle-aged man caught in desire's web once more, despite the fact that he knows better. He needs the high-wire danger and affirmation of an affair more than he can seemingly admit. In the Saints' tune, he is broken and bitter in the aftermath, trying to come to grips with what was, after all, inevitable. The jangling electric 12-string and popping snare underscore his desperation. The last part is named for the cover of Roy Orbison's "Wild Hearts Run Out of Time." Harvey's version is spare, nearly skeletal; it places his protagonist, like Orbison's, at the mercy of his beloved. The man is older, wiser; he knows exactly what he's asking for and what it costs. He begs his love to realize the same before the hourglass empties. These songs are all interspersed with Harvey's own beautifully written songs. There are three in the middle of Part Two that are especially weighty. "Where There's Smoke (Before)" is a turbulent warning to a friend structured almost like a tone poem cut from a folk song "God Made the Hammer" features rumbling minor-key electric guitars framing acoustics and a violin, as the narrator provocatively owns his part in being torn asunder by romance. Would that "I Wish That I Were Stone" were longer. Informed (and perhaps a subtle tribute to) the hook-laden songwriting of Phil Spector and Bruce Springsteen's guitar riff in "Born to Run," it's a slow, theatrical, devastating rock & roll ballad. The resonance of "Fairy Dust" at the end of the set, with its dreamy electric guitar and wispy violin, are rooted to the earth only by Westbrook's bassline and the grain in Harvey's dark baritone. It expresses humble (as in battle-worn) poetic wisdom on the experience of love as perhaps one of our greatest hopes despite its cyclical, transient nature -- it is one of the forces that binds us to one another across all walks of life. Despite its short 31-minute duration, Four (Acts of Love) is a weighty, thought-provoking, moving experience.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek