PJ Harvey
Let England Shake


4.0
excellent

Review

by Joseph Viney STAFF
February 16th, 2011 | 83 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori

The words ‘protest album’ or ‘protest song’ can provoke a sense of sarcastic recognition in a lot of people. The more measured musical responses to world events, such as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Ohio”, can be overruled by the embarrassing pomp of Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” or even Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song”. So it’s understandable that some may err on the side of caution when approaching PJ Harvey’s latest effort. All reservations should be case aside though, as Let England Shake is a soulful, maudlin and yet sometimes quite playful album. Far removed from her previous effort White Chalk, this time instead of taking ex-lovers and the like to task she has trained a thoughtful yet acerbic eye towards the mistakes and the implications, both personal and wider reaching, of past conflicts from attacks on Gallipoli and World War One to the present day debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Harvey’s view of England and the Western world is one of weary cynicism: “The West’s asleep/Let England shake/Weighted down with silent dead” is the album’s opening salvo, delivered in a sickly sweet and mocking tone. She reminds us of how “England’s dancing days are done”, twisting that post-colonial knife even further. It’s a mistake to think that the album is mired in negativity. Harvey still harks back to England’s stained but present glory. The album’s second track “The Last Living Rose” finds an ambience in “stinking alleys”, “dead filthiness of ages” and “drunken beatings” beside “the Thames River glistening like gold.” With the lyrics evoking such hazy, dream-like imagery, it’s only fitting that the sounds behind it are ghostly and ethereal. The disjointed bugle on “The Glorious Land” and a pitch-perfect siren’s call throughout “On Battleship Hill” are altogether bleak, uplifting and sound almost supernatural. The bugle interrupts proceedings as if it is the rallying call of an impromptu last stand. The album’s highlight is undoubtedly “The Words That Maketh Murder”, a piece that recalls the visceral platitudes of Owen and Sassoon delivered in an almost uplifting fashion. She evokes the role of a haunted soldier, a life sullied by acts committed during war. “I have seen and done things I want to forget” she insists.

The difficult subject matter and the stark lyrics are countered by instrumentation that is, at times, at a polar opposite to what is being discussed. An eclectic mix of bass harmonicas, zithers, mellotrons and xylophones add a sprig of flavour to the usual guitar and percussion arrangements and whilst the beauty of the LP is heavily entrenched in the lyrics, mention should be made of the two exemplary uses of samples on the album. First, the catchy, memorable and fitting refrain of “What if I take my problem to the United Nations?” originally penned by Eddie Cochran and later used by Blue Cheer. Its dazzling rhetoric not only captures the mood of the LP, but appears to be a fitting bookmark for everything discussed within. Second, a welcome, and again fitting, use of Niney the Observer’s “Blood & Fire” permeates “Written On The Forehead”, a sad tale of a war-ruined city being poisoned even further by “a fetid river.”

Throughout the album, Harvey remains keen to stick to the role as an observer. There is a subtle brilliance involved in not nailing your colours to the mast of an over the top political protest. Preferring to eschew solutions to the problems that highlighted, she is keen merely to bring to people’s attention the repetitive and relentless horror of conflicts past, present and future. Discussions and ruminations on the nature of national identity, war and its consequences tread a fine line between insightful and insanity. The skill and experience of PJ Harvey has put her firmly within the borders of the former. Harvey’s depiction of war as an endless parade of nightmares is an effective one. Instead of throwing clumsy political allegories at a beleaguered public, Harvey has kept it simple. This is war poetry at its finest and will keep you coming back for many repeat listens. Its influence on any listener, impressionable or otherwise, should be a positive one.



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user ratings (383)
Chart.
3.9
excellent
other reviews of this album
Conrad Tao EMERITUS (4.5)
Gordon Brown just doesn't get it....


Comments:Add a Comment 
robin
Emeritus
February 16th 2011


4249 Comments


brill. love the summary. need to get this after reading so much about it.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
February 16th 2011


7311 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Summary = win. Great review.

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
February 16th 2011


28640 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

PJ FUCKING

Digging: Jessie Ware - Tough Love

Drsmith4
February 16th 2011


1715 Comments


The old Lie...

conradtao
Emeritus
February 16th 2011


2090 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

aww, this replaced mine in the featured section :P

probably for the best. good writeup, joseph.

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
February 16th 2011


7358 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Just listened to the first 5 songs for a 2nd time. Really really good.

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
February 16th 2011


28640 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

your review is better but this is one of jv's stronger reviews

JViney
Staff Reviewer
February 16th 2011


322 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Oh dear, sorry Conrad. I took too long in writing this so I'm not surprised I was beaten to the punch.

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
February 16th 2011


16412 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

amazing review man, seriously top notch writing

Digging: Weezer - Everything Will Be Alright in the End

conradtao
Emeritus
February 16th 2011


2090 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

"Oh dear, sorry Conrad. I took too long in writing this so I'm not surprised I was beaten to the punch."

Not a problem. Also, and I know this is overdue - welcome to Sputnik!

sifFlammable
February 17th 2011


2741 Comments


summary is win

ShadowRemains
February 18th 2011


21043 Comments


Summary = win. Great review.


this


Digging: Execration (NOR) - Morbid Dimensions

Steoandnoodles
February 18th 2011


2832 Comments


very nice review. =)

Initial impressions were very impressed, second listen; with the right mood, nailed it for me.
Still, it's complex; it's a really moody one. You can't just dive in and have a few listens (at least
I can't)

Motiv3
February 18th 2011


8938 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

this album is so good on first listen.

Piglet
February 19th 2011


4659 Comments


Is This Desire and Stories pwn. Will get this.

Zion
February 19th 2011


812 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Heard a track off of this on our local radio station last night and had to find it. I love it. "On Battleship Hill" is one of my favorites.

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
February 19th 2011


7358 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is growing on me. Love The Glorious Land and On Battleship Hill.

kitsch
February 19th 2011


5107 Comments


theres three awesome albums featured right now

kanecooper
February 19th 2011


630 Comments


pee jee is back

shazwagon
February 19th 2011


84 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I hope I can love this as much as I admire it. There's no doubt, though, that P.J. is one the most formidable artists working today.



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