War poet may be the trickiest role of PJ Harvey's career
With hindsight, PJ Harvey’s 2000 LP Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea signalled more than just a commercial breakthrough in her career. Following the September 11 attacks – which prevented Harvey from flying to the UK to collect her first Mercury Music Prize for the record – its lyrical evocations of New York took on a new and unexpected emotive power: the album sounded an elegy for a certain kind of romantic conception of the city, and also acquired a subtle, seemingly inadvertent political character.
The development of a lyrical approach exploring themes of place, history and politics continued with 2007’s White Chalk, a record which eschewed the metropolitan concerns of Stories for a resolute focus on
That tenderness is complemented by gentle texturing, led by understated guitar and autoharp; the album’s instrumental complexity (compared with a record like White Chalk) being further emphasised through the use of samples on The Glorious Land and Written on the Forehead. Live, in a show at the Glasgow Concert Hall in September, that subtly cumulative sound was replaced by a stripped-down, hard-edged approach, which forcefully brought out the passion and anger of the songs. Again, Let England Shake’s dual character – both paean to, and critique of, English identity and history – was stressed.
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