“Let England Shake” – PJ Harvey (Joint Review)
It’s been almost two years since PJ Harvey’s collaborative effort with John Parish, and almost four since her last solo album. But it’s been worth the wait, PJ Harvey has well and truly returned with an album that is her most groundbreaking album in years.
During the period of the 00’s, I can only think of one war inspired album, maybe I’ve drawn a complete blank but other than Neil Young’s 2006 album Living With War, there’s nothing. In a period of history where war is seen as seemingly unnecessary and the nature of warfare is increasingly confusing, it really confounds me as to how an album as listenable and relevant as this has not yet been made.
Let England Shake is Harvey’s eighth solo album. It was recorded in 2010 in a church in Dorset, the same place she would hold a show to showcase her new material for the some of the first times in public. In early 2010 she appeared on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show (then Prime Minister Gordon Brown was in the audience) and sung the title track from Let England Shake.
PJ Harvey has never been one for rehashing old albums, throughout her career she has made albums that sound different to their predecessor and Let England Shake is definitely no exception. After the largely piano based White Chalk, PJ Harvey returns to guitars and adds in saxophone and in particular the auto-harp, her vocal delivery is also a departure from what people expect and like all her previous album her voice suits the music perfectly.
The most significant departure from her earlier work though is her lyrics.War driven and quite narrative, it’s almost like there’s a completely different lyricist to the PJ Harvey that wrote the song Rid of Me. Without the lyrics the songs would sound empty, but through her vocals and lyrics she gives life and emotion to the tracks, and that’s really the remarkable aspect of the album. On tracks like Hanging In The Wire her vocals are a high, but very faint, almost in a Miles Davis-esque subtleness.
8 albums into a career you could almost forgive an artist to getting into a rut, but PJ Harvey has done anything but that. This is evident in the song The Words That Maketh Murder, using an auto-harp (an instrument she had not used on record before) as the back bone of the song, PJ Harvey then sings (almost wails) in what is sometimes a reggae delivery, John Parish then sings back-up vocals, a backing singer is also another new thing for Harvey (I regard This Mess We’re In as a duet). It finishes with the same lyric (“Why don’t I take my problem to then United Nations”) repeated again and again, in what is one of Harvey’s best vocal performances in her career. The Last Living Rose is another great track, Harvey sings about England “selling it’s soul” and it’s overall loss of character.
In the last track The Colour of The Earth Harvey sing’s with Australian guitarist Mick Harvey (The Bad Seeds) on the subject of Gallipoli. It’s lyrically touching and is possibly the most depressing and dark song from the album. But it’s quite possibly the best track and in my opinion is the best song off the album.
When I first listened to this album, I was blown away by the lyrics. It wasn’t until about three or four listens in that I started to love the music behind these great words. I think Let England Shake is a grower and should be listened to a few times. I know my counterpart took a few listens to really fall in love with the album, and I think this is definitely something that a lot of people will find. Lyrically it’s the best album since the Drones 2006 album Gala Mill and quite possibly eclipses it. It really is rare to hear an album which have lyrics so poignant and touching as these. Harvey has made an album that I’m going to go out on a limb and say is her best.
Reviewers Pick: “The Colour of The Earth”
Stand-out Tracks: “The Words That Maketh Murder”, “The Last Living Rose”, “All & Everyone”, “The Glorious Land”, “The Colour of The Earth”