Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Album review: PJ HARVEY - Let England Shake

Highlights: The Last Living Rose, The Glorious Land, The Words That Maketh Murder, In The Dark Places, Hanging In The Wire 

Catching up with those early 2011’s albums I haven’t reviewed so far… PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake is not simply one of them – it is one of the most satisfying, truly original artistic statements in recent memory. The hurt emotion (as well as Polly’s equally vulnerable vocal delivery), the inventive arrangements and the intense, folkish vibe of these melodies pretty much guarantee Let England Shake its ‘instant classic’ status. 

Interestingly, I don’t even like PJ Harvey all that much. I don’t like PJ Harvey when she is this force of raw, ruthless emotion like she was on Dry or Rid Of Me. And the much-loved Stories From The City… sounded generic and predictable to me. Never got into those. But when she tries something different (like 2007’s eerie, haunting White Chalk LP, for instance), I immediately respond and start finding her music interesting. 

So: what’s the universal love for this album all about? My guess is that it has to do with the fact that on Let England Shake Harvey finds this perfect, rarely found balance between being the original artist she is and remaining all so adorable and accessible. There’s nothing difficult about any of these songs (well, some might find the high-pitched, bare-bones quality of “England” slightly off-putting), and yet the album keeps revealing these spine-tingling horns, pianos, effective backup vocals that make this something more – something approaching a true artistic triumph. I could talk for hours about the ominous, creepy brilliance of tracks like “The Glorious Land” or “In The Dark Places”, but for me the single most breathtaking moment is the second part of “The Words That Maketh Murder”, from 2:43 onwards. The chilling slide guitar underpinning that politically-charged chanting – it should really be heard to be believed. And even though the album gets slightly less fantastic towards the end, my admiration for what PJ Harvey is doing here doesn’t subside for a second. 

Actually, political albums should not be this good. They are usually about words, not melodies; they are primarily concerned with the message, not with how this message translates into music. But Let England Shake suffers from no such problems. It’s a classic record – its grip is tight on your chest, and it simply refuses to let go. I won’t be surprised if this turns out to be the year’s best album. A top 10 list seems barely enough for this.


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