Monday, 21 February 2011

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

I've been spending the entire weekend incessantly and somewhat obsessively listening to Polly Jean Harvey's new album, Let England Shake. So much so that informs me that I've listened 92 times in two days. I think that might be a new record - it's certainly been a long time since I last got so stuck on an album by an artist who didn't stop making music in the Nineties.

I went back to Brighton on Friday to stay the night, and Let England Shake kept me company on the various trains and tubes there and back again; punctuating the background tube station hum with PJ's throaty, enthralling voice and atmospheric portrayal of all that encapsulates the history of England.

Written with her head full of images and focus on the First World War, the damp trenches and bloody impact of war are beautifully captured, with delicate melodies and stripped-down instrumentals that summon up a nostalgic battlefield of suffering, death and homeland pride.

This is easily one of her most accessible albums to date, despite being anything but straightforward. Songs such as 'Let England Shake', 'All And Everyone' and 'England' are fragile, wiry compositions that are seeped in memorable melodies and emotion. The thudding drums in 'The Last Living Rose' and 'The Glorious Land' conjures up imagery of desolate greenlands and flowing streams, with trumpets filtering through the whimsical harmonies of PJ and the many male voices that are reminiscent of soldiers marching to war.

I didn't sleep at all last night thanks to a mix of insomnia and flu, and the chorus of 'The Words That Maketh Murder' rang through my fevered dreams, circling my bed in a vivid whirl of anguished narration. It was quite a surreal experience, and in some way adhered to the strength of the emotive language that PJ is able to summon in her music; creating entire landscapes using only her powerful voice, traditional instruments and bewitching lyrics.

This is one of the most captivating releases I've listened to in many months, and is another reminder of why PJ Harvey is one of the greatest songwriters of all time (and I don't use that phrase lightly!).

Let England Shake is out now - more information and the short films that accompany each song can be found here.

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