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A Great Album For This Or Any Year
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.