PJ Harvey: Let England Shake

Written by February 17th, 2011 at 7:12 pm

PJ Harvey
Let England Shake
(Vagrant)
Rating: ★★★★½

Since PJ Harvey is a veteran artist who, in her 20-year career, has yet to either make a bad record or repeat herself, to call her latest, Let England Shake, one of her strongest efforts to date is a bold statement, but it’s true — this a brilliant record by an artist impervious to aging. This, her tenth full-length, and first as an “indie” artist, is a conflicted commentary on her native nation’s complicated, war-torn history and lordly jingoism.

As such, lyrical themes chart a range territories from dire to hopeless — touching on themes of death, unrest, murder, death, fanaticism, war, murder, oppression, death and even murder. Yet, England is far from a downer, as its urgent text is accentuated by free-floating, ethereal production and arrangement — courtesy of long-time collaborative musical confidants Mick Harvey, John Parish and producer Flood — that, by album’s end, overwhelms the listener with a sense of resolution and beauty. In fact, the record’s astral atmosphere is so sonically soothing, it truly makes it a challenge to take it off the decks and disrupt its pleasures.

And just as England is able to bring to your brain visions of bloodshed and ruin without inspiring a razor-blade-in-hand dip in a warm bath, its orchestrally dense production — an expansive array of interwoven, hollow-bodied guitars, horns, samples, synths, beats, groves, calls and responses — is able to penetrate the ear-canals without ever feeling cluttered or confusing as its soundscape plays Greek chorus to Harvey as she effortlessly emotes at the top of her register.

From the ominous opening title-track, into the sunny stroll of “The Last Living Rose” — it’s folk-pop followup — through bittersweet ballads like “All and Everyone” and “England,” to an uplifting anti-hymn like “Hanging in the Wire” that’s enough to raise the hundreds-year-old buried bones of Red Coats, to the two-and-a-half minute requiem, “The Colour of the Earth,” a duet with Parish that closes the record, it’s clear that Harvey’s artistic vision and ability to make a statement and stick with it are as clear and fresh as they were on Rid Of Me — even though this record sounds nothing like that 1993 alt. rock classic. A stunning listen.

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  • Anna

    Great review Adam and I agree, Let England Shake is a magnificent album. I can’t imagine there being a better one released before the end of 2011.

  • Ove Kjær Kristensen

    Min kamp foregår også på det indre plan. Menneskers tanker er meget stor og kraftfuld, hvis vi giver hinanden frihed. Når jeg taler med mennesker om verden, har de samme tanker omkring frihed ud fra deres kultur og udviklingsstadie, men de har en forskellig vej til denne frihed, og efterlyser værktøjer (viden) på denne vej til frihed.
    Viden kan give dem en livsudvikling, som er selvforstærkende i glæden for livet.
    Vi fødes ind i en kultur og religion vi ikke selv har bestemt, men magthaverne i vores land.
    Alle børns hjerte er åbne for modtagelse af kærlig og underlægning af magtstrukturer, det har livet lært os gennem evolutionen for at kunne overleve.
    Magtstrukturene er imidlertidig et to ægget sværd, for det begrænser også mennesket i deres åbne hjerte over for mennesker der har en anden magtstruktur (kultur/religion).
    Ateisme f.eks. tager udgangspunkt i videnskab (evolution), men har de samme forhåbninger og visioner om livet og næstkærligheden i det liv vi lever her og nu.
    Jeg er sikker på at alle mennesker kunne omfavne hinanden i en dyb forståelse, i stedet for at lade kærligheden stivne i magtstrukturer. N:B. Det er mit håb at du PJ Harvey kunne blive inspireret af overstående og måske skrive en sang om det?
    Med Venlig Hilsen
    Ove Kjær Kristensen.

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