PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

Album Review by Sam Wiseman | 26 Jan 2011
Album title: Let England Shake
Artist: PJ Harvey
Label: Island
Release date: 14 Feb

2007’s White Chalk saw PJ Harvey reimagining the Dorset of her childhood against a backdrop of stark, spectral folk. That foundation remains on Let England Shake, but it has been gently overlaid with richer arrangements. Similarly, the former album’s lyrical themes are expanded upon: the songs here explore the wider landscape of English history, and the ever-present shadow of war that hangs above it.

All and Everyone describes the corpses of horsemen littering a battlefield, over which “death was in the staring sun,” while single The Words That Maketh Murder laments the futility of trying to “take my problems to the United Nations” in its haunting refrain.

This strident lyrical content, peppered with violent imagery, requires a deft musical touch to prevent the songs descending into melodrama. Accordingly, the instrumentation floats in the background, rather than forcefully emphasising Harvey’s narrative. Her vocals, too, avoid the more guttural registers of earlier records, displaying the same delicate, fragile tones of White Chalk.

This imbues songs which might otherwise have sounded like rants with a mournful, thoughtful quality. Both conceptually and musically, then, Let England Shake is one of Harvey’s more intricate and ambitious projects; in a career defined by shifts in direction, it marks yet another success. [Sam Wiseman]