PJ Harvey -‘Let England Shake.’ (Island)
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past month and/or have no interest in contemporary music, you will be aware by now that PJ Harvey is about to release her eighth album. And the reviews have been nothing less than extremely excited. Already, people are starting to talk about (whisper it) album of the year.
Polly Jean’s music have always been nakedly personal and deeply powerful, and this album sees no change from that. As you’ve probably deduced from the press, this is her first album to be deeply political. It would have been hard to live through the last years on Earth and not felt the effects of 9/11, the deeply divisive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan impact on you in some way. The album was completed last year, so recent uprisings in the arab world have not made their mark here, but you sense la Harvey is watching and waiting…
It’s an album inspired by the horrors of war. Being one of the most gifted lyricists around, as you’d expect it’s a pretty thought-provoking record, with images of soldiers blown ‘like lumps of meat,’ friends dying on the battlefield, and what it means to be English when you’re country gets involved in wars. However, wisely, she does not preach, only reflect. (She may share management and arecord company with U2, but there’s no danger of her turning into Bono).
While the lyrics are dark, the music is thoughtful, rather than the anguished torture of albums like the Steve Albini-produced Rid Of Me. It’s musically different from here last solo album, White Chalk, and yet the piano-driven feel of that album has left its’ mark in a positive way. Like all her albums, it stands completely on its’ own merits. The album was recorded with long-term collaborators John Parish and (former Bad Seed) Mick Harvey, and produced by Flood. It also features an innovative use of samples and reference points. These include the motif from ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’ on the title track, while ‘The Glorious Land’ features both a bugle call and a drum loop from the Police’s ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You.’ Additionally music from said El Kurdi and Winston ‘Niney’ Holness and writings from L.A. Carlyon and Maurice Shadbolt add to the pallette that she is working from.
Twenty years in, Polly Harvey still startles and still stands as one of the most original recording artists to have emerged from the British Isles. She may sing of ‘England’s Dancing Days’ being gone on the title track, but by God, PJ Harvey’s days of creativity seem to be endless. Which is why this album gets…
Let England Shake is released by Island on February 14.