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Posted at 1:35 PM ET, 02/15/2011

Album review: PJ Harvey, "Let England Shake"

By Allison Stewart

pj harveyPJ Harvey expertly blends the grim and lovely on her latest.

P.J. Harvey's formidable new disc is a war album, but not the war you might think. "Let England Shake" uses World War I, specifically the 1915 battle of Gallipoli, as a metaphor for armed conflict in general, and armed conflict in general as a flashpoint for the decline of England.

It's hard, heavy, woeful stuff, and while "England" is Harvey's grimmest album ever - which is saying something - it's also bloody cheerful: It's the gayest, grisliest, most hauntingly lovely record you'll hear all year.

Compared with Harvey's last release, the raw, watchful "White Chalk," it's positively jubilant. "The West's asleep/Let England shake," Harvey sings on the rollicking sea shanty of a title track. "Weighted down with silent dead/I fear our blood won't rise again."


Harvey recently traded her elderly bluesman growl for a baby-doll falsetto, and the juxtaposition between her newly girly voice and the disc's preoccupation with death and decay ("Soldiers fell like lumps of meat/. . . Arms and legs were in the trees," she chirps on "The Words That Maketh Murder") might have been the stuff horror movies are made of.

But "England" retains little of the eerie, sketchpad minimalism of "White Chalk." These are warmblooded, frequently up-tempo, bluesy alt-rock tracks propelled by curious devices: an omnipresent Autoharp; a sampling of Niney the Observer's reggae obscurity "Blood and Fire" (on "Written on the Forehead"). "The Glorious Land" features bugles calling the charge to war, and it's dark and visceral and goose-bump-raising - but not menacing, just sad.

Recommended tracks: "The Words That Maketh Murder," "Written on the Forehead"

By Allison Stewart  | February 15, 2011; 1:35 PM ET
Categories:  Quick spins  | Tags:  PJ Harvey  
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Comments

Patti Smith wannabe . . .

Posted by: jn22 | February 15, 2011 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Well done review, particularly the note that this is a very jaunty record for such dark subject matter. A strong record and one I believe will grow on me even more over time. Full review at http://www.kammentary.com/2011/02/first-impressions-let-england-shake-by.html

Posted by: kamoore63 | February 15, 2011 3:23 PM | Report abuse

You might want to correct the online headline typo-It's "Harvey" not "Havery"

Posted by: outsider8 | February 16, 2011 10:30 AM | Report abuse

I listened to the album once through (sans lyric sheet), and didn't really hear/feel too much pathos. PJ sounds more convincing when her topics are more immediate (e.g.sex,love,loneliness,loss, mortality) than the heady stuff involved here (patriotism, war,nationalism, history and destiny).It takes a pretty rare gift to bring such epic concerns to life through music and words (Dylan of the 60s came close, perhaps), and I'm not sure she succeeds here. I will certainly revisit the album with a lyric sheet. But my 1st impression is that this is her most cerebral and least emotional exercise to date.

Posted by: metman250 | February 17, 2011 2:58 AM | Report abuse

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