Under Review: PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

There’s really no point in trying to tie PJ Harvey’s work together on some kind of creative continuum. Her output has been consistently varied; her influences and compositional moves jump around drastically from album to album. This time around, Harvey’s head seems to be filled with thoughts of futile wars and her hands with the autoharp. The result is Let England Shake, another captivating turn for one of this generation’s most unusual talents. In many ways, Let England Shake doesn’t sound like a PJ Harvey album, and that’s exactly what makes it a great PJ Harvey album. Even Harvey’s voice takes on a new tone, her deep growl traded in for a fluttering falsetto. In some songs, this makes her sound forlorn and innocent (“Bitter Branches”), on others she’s transcendent and even a bit eerie (“On Battleship Hill”). The songs themselves are as stylistically eclectic, employing a number of tricks that seem odd, even for Harvey. Samples of brass bands on “The Glorious Land” and reggae singers on “Written On The Forehead” seem detached, but not entirely out-of-place.

Even without their crafted quirks, the songs on Let England Shake would stand quite strong. The twisting “The Words That Maketh Murder” clips lines from “Summertime Blues” and “England” features lyrics so patriotic that it’s tough to tell how cynical Harvey is being. Another unavoidably noticeable trait is how short most of the songs are. The tunes seem to breeze by, though that could also be attributed to the bright arrangements executed by John Parish, Mick Harvey and Jean-Marc Butty. Polly Jean’s gang of frequent collaborators gives Let England Shake an air of comfort which, along with those catchy arrangements, help the dark and political messages go down easy. For all of PJ’s previous creative meanderings, an album like Let England Shake reminds us why she’s such a vital force. After this, she’s definitely earned the esoteric ventures she’d probably undertake anyway.



~ by E. on February 21, 2011.

One Response to “Under Review: PJ Harvey – Let England Shake”

  1. But is it listenable? Does it inspire and have staying power? With each passing LP we miss the soulfulness of years gone by. I’m not joining the emperor’s new clothes on this one. I respect her, I’ll buy it, I’ll go to the show…but I don’t really want to listen to this over and over…and that alone makes me feel a bit melancholy.

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