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May 23, 2011 | by  | in Music | [ssba]

P.J. Harvey – Let England Shake

England is fucked – that’s the general message PJ Harvey is trying to get across with her concept-heavy eighth solo album. The songs on Let England Shake traverse some rocky lyrical terrain, with some describing it as Harvey’s ‘war album’. Death, loss, and the Anzac trenches all feature, but at the centre is England, its bloody past (and present) of wars and colonialism, and Harvey’s love-hate relationship with the place. Or rather, her characters’: she seems like she’s channelling multiple ghosts throughout the twelve songs. Thus on ‘The Glorious Land’ she asks, “What is the glorious fruit of our land? Its fruit is deformed children,” while on ‘The Last Living Rose’ she cries “Goddam Europeans! Take me back to beautiful England.”

A Pitchfork reviewer has suggested the album won’t make so much sense in America, and they’re probably right. But it ought to be going down well in New Zealand, considering the scars the World Wars have left on our collective consciousness and our ambiguous, frequently shameful relationship with our colonial past and the ‘Motherland’.

The musical arrangements are spacious and loose – Harvey sounds like she’s singing in a massive reverberant cathedral, and the songs wander in and out with repetitive refrains and sparse instrumentation. You might have heard the title track getting some air play on Radio Active recently, with its jaunty, warbling organ melody juxtaposed brilliantly with lyrics prophesying doom. Other tracks that tickle my fancy are ‘In The Dark Places’, where Harvey expertly demonstrates how effective a well-timed silence can be; ‘On Battleship Hill’, where she explores the higher end of her vocal range while the band subtly builds up texture and rhythm in to an extended crescendo; and the aforementioned ‘The Last Living Rose’, which is short but sweet and to the point.

As a whole, Let England Shake has that magical balance between cool stuff that catches your ear on a casual play through, and depth and complexity that only becomes apparent with multiple listenings. It’s destined to be the kind of album you can listen to for years and still hear new things in every time.

It’s also worth noting, in this age of iTunes, that Let England Shake totally justifies the album format. As a collection of disparate singles, these songs would be good; clustered together, they have a power that is far beyond the sum of their parts. I strongly recommend that you buy, borrow or download a copy of the whole thing, put the kettle on, sit down with a cup of tea and listen to it from start to finish (while browsing through royal wedding photos) for the full, paradoxical experience.


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  1. Mena says:

    Many many quality potins there.

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