Chirpy and upbeat are not words often associated with PJ Harvey
records. But for her latest effort, Let England Shake, blithe
moments abound even in the wake of her lyrical assault on the Motherland.
Don't get me wrong, Harvey does her best to spoil the fun on tracks
like "All & Everyone" when she posits, "Death was
in the staring sun/Fixing its eyes on everyone". The heavy drone
of the auto harp, trombone, and organ doesn't help lighten the mood
either - or - the solemn fact that the album was recorded in a 19th-Century
But on the whole, the record is a brave mix of the airy wallow of
The Smiths and the impish ether of Bjork. Harvey's sidekicks
should certainly share credit for this fresh sounding lifeblood; namely
on bubbly standout songs like "The Last Living Rose" and
"The Glorious Land" - where the saxophone melts and the
guitars shiver like a wet dog. The melodies breathe easier here too,
but the lyrics still offer pointed contempt in the face of England's
recurrent intoxication with war. On "The Words That Maketh Murder",
Harvey unflinchingly sings "I have seen and done things I want
to forget/Soldiers fell like lumps of meat/Blown and shot out beyond
belief/Arms and legs were in the trees." It's a clever recipe,
really. While each song seems wrapped in a glossy sheen at first listen,
the verity then ultimately reveals itself like a bag of nails. Most
musicians would seem intent on pairing dark subject matters with a
matching instrumental hue. But Harvey alters the roadmap this time
around with compelling verve. The album is swift, unsparing, and transcendent
(check out the brisk "Hanging In The Wire"). It's also gainfully
consistent; which has been a bit of a misnomer for an assortment of
Harvey efforts from yesteryear.
I haven't seen PJ Harvey live since 1995's "Down By The Water"
stormed US airwaves (Was that really 16-years ago?). But thanks to
the crisp delivery of Let England Shake, I'm a devotee again.
It's rare when an artist reinvents themselves and comes out sounding
cleaner and more balanced. With clarity cometh accolades and with
accolades cometh predictions. As such, chalk this one up in your forecast
for Top 10 of 2011.
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