Polly Jean Harvey is thrust back into the limelight upon the release of her latest LP.
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Enjoyment from PJ Harvey’s latest album relies on how full/empty your glass is…
…not to be put off by the seemingly insurmountable about of indie credibility and critical infatuation with this album I honestly tried to enjoy Let England Shake, really I did! Yet on my way to work I had this sudden realisation. Slogging through a decimated London Underground network of crippling delays, engineering works within deep and dark places. The solemn faces, the burning frustration on the passengers faces and the unerring sense of calm provided the perfect backdrop to this record.
There is very little light to counter the darkness of the potent political lyrics and bleak chiming guitars. PJ’s vocals are so extremely shrill and high octave that they take on this ghostly quality of a spectral bird in flight. These range from the outstandingly beautiful, to a rather annoying incessant yelp.
It is incredibly difficult to really “get” Let England Shake without carefully following through the lyric sleeve. The listening experience suffers because of this. Few tracks break above a plod and even fewer showcase bright enjoyable melodies. With time and patience though, the true essence of this record can be found within it’s stark war poetry. The posing of those questions critics so love to dwell over shows her substantial intellectual clout and songwriting prowess.
It takes a special talent to produce such subdued record within the Age of Austerity. For PJ Harvey, this has proved a success story of which I don’t much like the blurb. An album for the thinkers, not for the casual listener of which I tend to fall…
…I’m more of a Glass Half Full guy.
Mr Flowers Says:
The return of Polly Jean brings one of her most accomplished records of her already acclaimed career. Yet from the off it’s clear Let England Shake isn’t a normal PJ Harvey record. The title track starts proceedings with a dream-pop Kate Bush feel about it, a step away from the sombre A Woman A Man Walked By of a couple of years ago and many more steps away from the more guitar heavy entries from her early output.
The pace of the album is to a steady slow beat, but supported throughout by effortlessly beautiful melodies such as those found on the Last Living Rose, the blue room of All & Everyone that crawls and builds into powerful vocal melodies, and the climbing horns and sumptuous verses of In The Dark Places. It’s telling that the muted guitars in the pounding Bitter Branches is the probably closest Polly gets to that raw rock sound of old.
Thrown in the mix are the traditional ye olde English folk influenced (as in the type that Frank Turner crows on about) The Glorious Land and The Colour Of The Earth. The Words That Maketh Murder sounds a bit like a TV On The Radio song – a chanty, sea shant describing the horrors of war – and, having come to the fore on her previous record, PJ gets to display her talent of being able to play characters with her singing voice again on the hauntingly patriotic England where, presumably, she plays Joanna Newsom (having put in a performance as Kate Bush on the opener).
For an album whose overall theme is war and death, it’s good fortune that Let England Shake is simply full of amazing melodies. They come at such an unerring consistency and backed by an always interesting tapestry of music and lyrics, it’s just the sort of unshakeable combination that elevates a good album to being great.
DoesItRock Overall Score: 7/10
Listen to PJ Harvey – Let England Shake now on Spotify!