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PJ Harvey
Let England Shake
Vagrant Records
www.pjharvey.net


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 church.

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.

-K.K. Coe

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