PJ Harvey “Let England Shake”

PJ Harvey

Let England Shake

Vagrant Records

Release Date : February 15, 2011

**Stream the album on NPR **

PJ Harvey’s eighth studio album, Let England Shake, is a work of art. She recorded the album in a 19th century church in Dorset, located on the South West coast of England. Joining her in the studio were longtime friends and collaborators Mick Harvey (no relation) and John Parish and producer Flood.

In numerous interviews Polly Jean Harvey states that her goal with each album is for it to be different than the previous, and in that she is far more successful than her peers. The goth-electro foreboding of 1998’s Is This Desire? gave way to 2000’s pure rock Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, an album for which she won the Mercury Prize. 2007’s White Chalk was also critically lauded and for this album Harvey ditched her Gretsch Broadkaster for the piano. While the instruments and the overall sound of each album differs from one to the next you could say that each of these albums dealt with the inner world and subjects ranged from subjects like unrequited love to death to sex; the personal politics and torments and joys that make us human. On Let England Shake, Harvey places the personal politics aside and focuses on the outside world. Images of war and its impact on the land are a common subject matter here with allusion to both Afghanistan and World War I, however, the music shifts the overall tone of the song so that the album does not feel heavy handed. To put it bluntly, Harvey does not preach to her listeners, which is unique for such a political album.

Album Highlights

“Let England Shake”

The first thing fans will notice is that the Four Lads sample Istanbul (Not Constantinople) which was included in her live performances has been replaced by a xylophone which mimics its melody. The upbeat tempo and soft autoharp contrast with rather dark images. On the song’s chorus she sings;

Smile, smile Bobby/With your lovely mouth

Pack up your troubles/ Let’s head out

To the fountain/ Of death and splash about

Swim back/forth/laugh out loud

The cheerful melody and macabre lyrics beautifully set the tone of the album.

“The Last Living Rose”

In interviews Harvey has stated that as an English woman she feels both pulled and repelled by her homeland, which I can certainly relate to. You love and are proud of your home country yet at times are shamed by it as well. On this song she sings;

Goddam’ Europeans / Take me back to beautiful England

and the grey, damp filthiness of ages

This song demonstrates this push and pull and is somberly beautiful.


“The Glorious Land”

This song has been on “repeat” on my iPod for days. At first the Calvary Charge! sample felt out of place, but after a few short listens this feeling dissipates. Once again, their is a contrast from the spoken word and the up-tempo music…similar to the way the nursery rhyme Ring Around the Rosie‘s cheerfulness hides a more macabre story. This song also discusses how war changes both land and people.

How is our glorious land ploughed?

Not by iron ploughs.

It is ploughed by tanks and feet marching.

What is the glorious fruit of our land?

Its fruit is orphaned children.

“The Words that Maketh Murder”

“Battleship Hill”

Harvey voice is truly beautiful on this track. She made a name for herself by exploring her lower ranges on albums like 1995’s epic To Bring you my Love. On this track Harvey explores the high notes. The result is soothing and just as theatrical.

Album Hiccups

“England”

Harvey is known for daring dips into the avant-guard with previous songs like “Pig will not” and “Taut.” This track is more accessible than those. However, “England” took me more than one listen to fully appreciate.  The layered vocals and the strange bicycle like horn take a little to get used to. It will be interesting to hear how this song is performed live.

Final Impressions : If you are as much a fan of PJ Harvey as I am then this album will not disappoint. If you are a lover of music…this album is worth the cost. It is already receiving critical praise.

U.S. Tour Dates :

April 14th – San Fransisco, CA – The Warfield

April 17th – Indio- CA – Coachella Festival

April 20th – New York City, NY – Terminal 5

You can purchase Let England Shake via iTunes and Amazon.

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