P.J. Harvey – Let England Shake (Island)

It’s been three and a half years since Polly Jean Harvey shocked fans with her otherworldly voice on 2007’s White Chalk. That high, quavering voice has been notched back here, but its presence is still in evidence.

As the album’s title implies, this is a collection of songs about England. It is also very much about war. As Harvey sings on the title track that starts the album, “England’s dancing days are done”. The music that accompanies her is spooky, with a melody line that almost sounds like the theme to the X-Files. Harvey’s voice could easily be mistaken for Yoko Ono. Clearly, this is not a bid for mass appeal.

But it is a bold artistic statement. The twelve songs that make up Let England Shake bind her mother country to an unending march to battle. A bugle call sounds throughout This Glorious Land, while Harvey ties England to America’s fortunes. Elsewhere, The Words That Maketh Murder quotes Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues while a sparse, tribal backing track pounds away.

Most of the songs are relatively short, many under three minutes, as if dwelling any longer on the death and war that Harvey sings about  would be unbearable. P.J. is accompanied by long-time collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey and drummer Jean-Marc Butty who adds vocal harmonies on several tracks.

Anyone looking to rock out with the P.J. Harvey of old will probably be disappointed here. This is a rather bleak, unrelenting look at the dark side of a deteriorating society.

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to The Words That Maketh Murder from Let England Shake: