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4.6 out of 5 stars134
4.6 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 21 February 2013
Every song on this album is a war story, usually sung from the point of view of a protagonist. Some of the stories mention known events (Gallipoli is in several songs) while others are from the general viewpoint of a soldier serving at the front. Most fit easily into a Great War frame of reference, while some could depict examples of partisan movements and more recent conflicts.

What makes the record so effective is the voice used: the tone of both the lyrics and the singing conveys the lives of the combatants as if the singer were a ghost floating over the old battlefields, briefly wakening the dead. Individual stories are brought to life for a few minutes, usually with a focus on a single emotion for each song, and the effect is strongly moving. The music is mostly fairly simple with a strong melody; snatches of lyrics and music from other records visit occasionally adding a layer of often darkly comic humour.

To say this is an anti-war album is to perhaps miss the point; it depicts the brutality and violence of war without flinching, but it is clearly a record on the side of the individuals who fought in the wars, and English individuals at that. Anyone with an interest in the history of English/British or ANZAC conflicts of the past two hundred years will find this a very emotional set of songs, and a moving tribute to those whom circumstances forced to fight.
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on 14 February 2011
I've had my doubts about some of PJ Harvey's work since Is This Desire, although I have never doubted she had lost any of her immense talent. As if to confirm this Let England Shake is quite simply a great album by any standards. Most of the attention from reviewers has so far centred on the lyrical content and indeed this is most impressive. The twin themes of her ambivalent relationship with England and the destructive cost of war run and intertwine throughout the album. Apparently PJ did a great deal of research before writing these songs; in the very best way this is something that does not show, these are not intellectual or preachy songs. Instead we have a highly individual and considered response to important issues. By looking outwards she has written some of the most resonant and moving lyrics of her career.
Of course for all that PJ is not a poet and without music to match this would not be a great album. The music is actually quite difficult to describe as it sounds unlike anything she has recorded before and yet entirely like her. Looser than usual, it is more melodious than she has allowed herself to be in the past, and at times with it's strummed autoharp and guitars it could almost be described as folk-rock (at times the feel of this record is also similar to The Velvet's third album as a guide). PJ's voice retains much of the higher range debuted on White Chalk but is richer than on that record. There are no weak tracks here but the standout for me is the central section of All & Everyone, Battleship Hill and England, it is quite simply as beautiful a run of three songs as I can remember. Also immediately impressive are the title track, The Words That Maketh Murder and the apocalyptic Written On The Forehead (appropriately featuring a sample from that most apocalyptic genres reggae - Niney The Observer's Blood And Fire).
Overall as I started off saying this is a great album, perhaps the most musically inviting and lyrically deepest of her career. Now a veteran, it may even be the best album of PJ's career. I am loath to use the word masterpiece of any new record, but I think that if you were to ask me in a year that is exactly how I would describe this.
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on 28 February 2014
I pretty much ignored all of PJ Harvey's career while I was growing up (there are only so many bands you have time to listen to after all) but as I reach my own mid-thirties I've tried to open myself up to new music more. I found this on youtube, had a listen, and immediately ordered the CD. It was so good I was practically floored. Dark and bleak, it's a bitter celebration of England and its bloody history. These songs are so good they just won't let you go. I knew PJ Harvey was a good songwriter, but I didn't she was this good. From now I'll be going back through her entire career, one album at a time. This album is just majestic. Everyone should own it.
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on 20 February 2011
Beautiful, mournful, frightening, poetic.

A lament on the waste of war, on the human condition, and for the England of myth and legend. It is ethereal in a sense, like a walk through an unearthly washed-out wasteland of England's green and pleasant land, where experiences and visions of wars come in and out of sharp focus from the past and the present, unbounded by time and place.

The music is evocative of this England that she is referencing - rock with multi-cultural motifs but grounded in an almost traditional English folk simplicity.

But it is also a very real and intensely personal political statement, a call away from arms and the cycle of war, to her country that she cannot but love.

I find some of her lyrics frustratingly too obscure to decipher her exact meaning, but nevertheless it is music that resonates and I think, touches an on unease that many people feel about the loss of life and limb that has become so much a part of the fabric of out lives today and that we are told politically is a justifiable sacrifice.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 August 2011
This is meant to be PJ Harvey's war album and the lyrics, music and feel give you no doubt that Polly Jean Harvey has put a lot of effort into this. There are 12 tracks of short doses of lyrical and musical feats centring around that theme and and the theme of England. Guitars and a very strong percussion accompany the different forms of Harveys voice to give a driven feel throughout. Sometimes she sounds almost operatic and others just angry - sometimes in the same song. The overall effect of this is quite dizzying and it takes a while to appreciate the scope of this album. Tracks like Bitter Branches and Last Living Rose are immediate whilst other take their time to appeal. But they get there. Even when the bugle of The Glorious Land comes in you are a little taken aback at first - but it makes sense with the lyrics. And the lyrics need mentioning. They are quite brilliant - descriptive and concise they are the focus of this album. This album will be up there at the end of the year - already nominated for a Mercury. And it deserves to be.

In the 80's every new female artist was compared to Kate Bush. Now the likes of Anna Calvi et al are compared to PJ Harvey. That should be a measure of her current standing. This offering only cements her place. 'I live and die through England' PJ Harvey declares at the start of her acoustic ode to her mother country. Listening to this you know she believes that in her soul. Heartfelt and meaningful this is a very accomplished album. It also is that rare thing - an album put together by someone who believes every word she sings.
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on 21 February 2011
Stunning. Simple effective and haunting. Bought this on the basis of a review in Mojo and listened to the cd 5 times straight so impressed was I with the quality of song writing, playing singing (with a slight nod to Siouxsie) and the overall effect which was simply stunning. Never heard anything by PJ Harvey before and this cd has left wanting more. Love most of it, admire the simplicity of the guitar playing, the ache and yearning - even avoids most of the normal war cliches. A tour de force of a record
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on 6 August 2011
This is a brilliant new album from PJ Harvey! The twelve songs are all about war in general and The Great War in particular, the war that devastated Europe and was supposed to be The War To End All Wars. We know how that turned out. Several of the songs are about the bloody 1915 battle of Gallipoli, based on the book "Voices of Gallipoli." The songs are sparse but rich, with powerful lyrics describing the horrors of war from the perspective of the young soldiers who are slaughtered in them. LET ENGLAND SHAKE was recorded in a beautiful old church in Dorset, pictured in the booklet and inlay. The sound is resonant, and features Harvey, Jon Parish, Mick Harvey, and Jean-Marc Butty. Harvey learned to play the autoharp for these songs, and it is heard on four tracks.

Lest one think that the album is utterly bleak, many of these dark songs are quite catchy and toe-tapping. Some are more compelling than others, but the combined effect, the album as a whole, is greater than any individual part. The tone is relatively light and restrained given the subject matter. Harvey sings in her upper register. To me it sounds like it could be a recent Mekons album, particularly Journey to the End of the Night from 2000 (see my review). Given that the Mekons are among my favorite artists, I mean that as the highest praise.

Though Harvey clearly situates LET ENGLAND SHAKE in the context of British history and culture, and it will certainly speak to a British listener in a way that others might not totally understand, the theme is obviously universal, and unfortunately timeless as well. One song ("Written On the Forehead") could easily be about the contemporary invasion and occupation of Iraq, though it could be about the Ottoman lands of 1915.

Others have analyzed the album's place in the trajectory of PJ Harvey's music. I want to stress that in its own right this is a powerful piece of art that should be heard whether you are a fan of her previous music or not. Definitely one of the best of the year early on.
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on 29 August 2011
Quite simply, this is the best album of the year so far. Well, of the albums that this reviewer has heard anyway. An album of outstanding quality and variation. Piercing lyrics, haunting vocals; it always keeps you on your toes. I won't go in to all the highlights of this record, but 'Battleship Hill' and 'England' make for a glorious mid section...most albums you hear nowadays are top heavy with the better tracks at the front of the album, save a good one for the album closer, and then have a patchy midsection...not this one...PJ Harvey takes you on a journey in all is never boring...the instrumentation is all fabulous, and Harvey is on top form vocally...this is an album to be enjoyed in your bedroom chilling out, studying,'s good on a train,'s not a 'getting pumped up to go out' is a subtle glory.

If you want to buy any album this year, make it this one...I cannot speak highly enough of is possibly the best album I have heard in the last 5 years...I have only heard a few PJ Harvey albums in the past. I enjoyed White Chalk and Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, but I think this one tops the lot.

A must own.
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on 14 February 2011
National treasure Polly Jean Harvey's eight studio album "Let England Shake" is a great album and shows that she's still as vital as ever, 4 LONG years have passed since 2007's "White Chalk" even though she did treat us to 2009's collaboration with John Parish, the excellent "A Woman A Man Walked By".

The first we heard of "Let England Shake" was when she appeared on The Andrew Marr Show in April 2010 to perform the title track, it ceartinly wetted our lips of what was to follow and now 10 months later the wait is over and i'm glad to say it's been worth it.

It's good to note that long time collabators John Parish and Mick Harvey are both present as is producer Flood(smashing pumpkins, depeche mode, u2, nine inch nails). The title track itself is a work of art with it's political overtones about the English and French armies invading Gallipoli in 1915(world war 1), the track itself features an Xylophone and an autoharp(it makes an apperance on a number of tracks) in fact in an recent interview Harvey said she took Autoharp and poetry lessons to help with the writing for this album. There's the blues influnced number "The Words That Maketh Murder" which is a real stand out track. Mick harvey even contributes vocals to final track "The Colour of the Earth". The real stand out track is "All and Everyone" which at over five minutes long is one of the best tracks she has ever written and continues the political theme on the album and shows why she's still so far ahead of everyone else when it comes to writing lyrics! "Written On The Forehead" uses a sample from legendary reggae producer Niney the Observer, the result is like the rest of the album outstanding!

Let England Shake features some of PJ Harvey's best work as well as most political and shows why she is such an influential figure, there won't be many better albums than "Let England Shake" this year!
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on 17 August 2011
This isn't my first PJ Harvey, and have always been a fan, liking her otherworldly voice, honest and poetic lyrics, and edgy rock music. And the fact you're never sure what her next album will be like. This album is a work of pure beauty really, shining brighter than her other releases, and I think is a work of genius. It is a folk album at heart, with its political lyrics echoing the times we live in, a suggestion of loving this country as much as hating it, whilst harking back to past times, times of myth and magic . It lives in the cities, in the grime and the noise, but also in the darkest woods and that sense of damp earth and old spirit. Carrying the lyrics is a mainly acoustic sound with a chilled ambience and also impending aggression, layered with a sharp psychedelic edge and an out of time feel, which has a profound effect of its own.
It took 5 or 6 listens to get this album - I knew it was a masterpiece on first listen, but didn't truly realise why until later listens. If you like her early albums, or even just a handful of her songs, buy this album! Same for anyone looking for real, modern folk; poetic and profound lyric writing and exceptional music. Half decent hi-fi or headphones strongly recommended here, there's some complexities on this album!
Thank you PJ, I hope you can equal this again!
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