Let England Shake — a Bouquet of Barbed Wire from P.J. Harvey

Polly Jean Harvey returns and sounds positively (Kate) Bush–whacked on her eighth and most commercial album since Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea. From the nursery-rhyme chant of the title track, it rarely makes a sharpened stiletto misstep.

Despite its English themes, musically the collection takes in the world; the African rhythm of “Written on the Forehead” (which samples Niney the Observer’s reggae classic “Blood and Fire”). “The Glorious Land” is a dour goth-rocker with a cavalry bugle overture. “On Battleship Hill,” features a Spanish guitar and a piano riff that ripples all the way to the Costa del Sol. On “The Last Living Rose” and “In the Dark Places,” Polly steps up for sax duties. The whining vocal intro of “England” is annoying, but fast becomes a harrowing, ethereal tearjerker.

Throughout the record, Harvey’s words hark back to the subject of war and the fate of those who do the fighting and suffering. It’s not so much a protest record as an attempt to put humanity back to the forefront — an open love letter to her countrymen and women.

With long-time collaborators John Parish, Mick Harvey, and Flood, Harvey’s produced a work that is bloody, bruised, and brooding. She has never needed or craved commercial success, but this is the record most likely to see the general public embrace her bouquet of barbed wire.

Album: Let England Shake (2011)
Artist: P.J. Harvey
Label: Vagrant
Songs: (1) Let England Shake (2) The Last Living Rose (3) The Glorious Land (4) The Words That Maketh Murder (5) All & Everyone (6) On Battleship Hill (7) England (8) In the Dark Places (9) Bitter Branches (10) Hanging in the Wire (11) Written on the Forehead (12) The Colour of the Earth

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