P.J. Harvey – [Album]

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Let England Shake is one strange beauty, not unlike P.J. Harvey herself. A musical chameleon of the highest order, she’s David Bowie with scarier eyebrows and a less defined codpiece, changing sound and vision from listening station to listening station. On her eighth solo full-length, Harvey inhabits her most unsettling character yet: the demure ingénue with revolution on her mind.  Almost all of Let England Shake is sung in an infantile coo that gives creepy credence to what amounts to a collection of adult lullabies.

If the idea of Harvey attempting to sing anyone to sleep sounds like it would be a tricky listening experience, it often is. This album is miles removed from where Harvey started out on Dry, a cherry bomb in the coffeehouse toilet of the greater Pacific Northwest. Her follow up, Rid Of Me, was so bruising a diatribe against the more animalistic qualities of the rougher sex that it may as well have been called I Shit On Your Grave. The fanbase she accrued with that staggering jab and cross combo may long have left the arena before the bell rang on this eighth round. True to her word, Let England Shake plays largely as White Chalk Pt.  2, albeit less tethered to the ivories. If, as Harvey has claimed, she focused on the lyrics prior to recording the music for this album, her creative process was already in a subconscious place coming off that last album. Artistically, however, this latest effort recalls nothing else so much as Is This Desire? – a record that may be the most period-specific of all her releases –  but would likely serve as the strongest objective introduction for a casual fan.

The title and lead off track sounds like the soundtrack to some festive gathering in the middle of a Roger Corman adaptation of Poe. If the catchy but cloying opening melody is more unintentionally amusing than Harvey was aiming for, she demonstrates later that her anger across this record is occasionally tempered with a dry humor that keeps things from growing too somber or indulgent. Keeping “The Words That Maketh Murder” from being precious enough to make Morrissey blanch, Harvey takes the piss out of her own archaic phrasing with the utterance “thith/thith/thith are the words,” in the best display of lisping this side of the Modest Mouse or New Pornographers catalog. By song’s end she is trading male and female vocals, “What if I take my problem to the United Nations?” in a muckraking scout chant. Likewise, “The Glorious Land” is wrapped around a recurring sample of “Reveille” that knowingly contrasts the Japanese game show theme of a chorus that almost derails this entire outing before it really gets off the ground.

Harvey can still write the hell out of a song and even at her oddest she never lets the album get far without dropping the towel on how nakedly great she is to begin with. She delivers at least two bonafide classics to stand alongside your favorite Polly Jean cuts of albums past in “All & Everyone” and “In the Dark Places." On the former, she relents from an album’s worth of damning her homeland with faint praise, as the song acquiesces to the reality of what righting her perceived injustices would call for, in a lump in your throat refrain. For all the affectation, the album is no haphazard affair and lingers with a surprising desire to hit the replay button as soon as the final track concludes.  



Let England Shake
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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