Thursday, January 5, 2012

PJ Harvey Let England Shake



Let England Shake by PJ Harvey

2011 album from the critically adored British singer/songwriter. Let England Shake was recorded in a 19th Century church in Dorset, on a cliff-top overlooking the sea. It was created with a cast of musicians including such long-standing allies as Flood, John Parish, and Mick Harvey. What is remarkable about Let England Shake is bound up with its music, its abiding atmosphere and in particular, its words. If Harvey's past work might seem to draw of direct emotional experience, this album is rather different. Its songs centre on both her home country, and events further afield in which it has embroiled itself. The lyrics return, time and again, to the matter of war, the fate of the people who must do the fighting, and events separated by whole ages, from Afghanistan to Gallipoli. The album they make up is not a work of protest, nor of strait-laced social or political comment. It brims with the mystery and magnetism in which she excels. But her lyric-writing in particular has arrived at a new, breathtaking place, in which the human aspects of history are pushed to the foreground. Put simply, not many people make records like this.

Kate Bush and Nick Cave had a baby. They named the baby "Let England Shake." This is absolutely brilliant. Last night, I listened to it for the first time with the headphones on. It was so mindblowing, I actually had to take them off and stop for a while. So much subtlety and grace. This album is simply beautiful. This album is simply horrifying.

It seems to me that, beyond being an album about war and an album about England, it is an album that is about death. It is about death and how responsible we humans are for it much of the time. To know that you are mortal, that your time is finite, yet to still construct rationales and to still be beholden to animal lusts that cut that already unfathomably precious time even shorter...for what? Staggering.

I've seen a lot of conservative comments, lacking vision, that feel Ms. Harvey is not the Ms. Harvey of old, that she has lost the fire of the 1990's. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ironic that the ravages of time and the descent into bitterness that are reflected upon in this record are echoed in the negativity of some of the reviews. But I suppose that's to be expected as the war of life drags ever on.

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