PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

January 01, 1970





[Ed. note: the text
below is adapted from our forthcoming, exclusive interview with PJ Harvey, so
be watching for it.


There is,
as always, PJ Harvey’s usual brand of slaughter in the air throughout Let England Shake – the bloody pulp and
circumstance of soldiers falling like lumps of meat; the drunken beatings; even
the way dinars get thrown around seems hostile. But there’s protest in the wind
here as well, a heated place that Harvey’s howl
has never hit up previously, as England‘s
windswept motion and coolly politicized mien is less directly personal than it
was throughout corrosive back-catalog highlights.


It was recorded
virtually live and quietly with Harvey
stalwarts Mick Harvey, John Parrish and such, and what’s odd is how songs such
as “Written on the Forehead” and “The Words That Maketh Murder” are as
confrontational and aggressive as any in her past, yet here find themselves
hung upon a higher softer coo and tender cushiony melodies. That comes from a
first for Harvey:
she started Let England Shake with
the words, writing and singing them to herself, unaccompanied. Those words
inspired where the melody would go, and that openness is heard from the click
and yawn of “The Last Living Rose” to the crinkle of “The Colour of the Earth.”
Not having an instrument to lean on when writing then speaking/singing the
words meant that she’d reached into very different melodic airy areas that she
might usually have avoided or simply never knew existed.


The key
to Let England Shake is that you must
think something when you walk away from it. It’s her least passive listen. For
all its saxophone’s honk (the only low end here), floating high-voiced whispers
and thrumming autoharp-filled tones touched by oddly funny sampled riffs (“Istanbul, Not
Constantinople”? Really?!?), the
boldest vision within its stark white walls – her choice in cover art – is that
Harvey has finally opened herself up to the un-scrubbed society at large; the
political ramifications of war and the ages-old ruminations on peace. The idea
that murder can be doubly and deeply personal whether you’re bloodily slaughtering
hundreds or violently stabbing a lover. That God is in the details, whether
it’s “The Glorious Land” or the “Bitter Branches” she’s singing of. That
violence is leveled even when it’s the toss of a hand or the whisk of a
command. That her country is in ruins and that maybe all countries around her
are little more than that.


are bad. Worse than they were when she was whipping her hair around her face
screaming “Sheela-Na-Gig” back in ‘92.



DOWNLOAD: “Let England Shake,” “The Last Living
Rose,” “The Words That Maketh Murder” A.D. AMOROSI


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