Republished from The Maneater
The sound of war would typically be defined by the echoes of gunfire, screaming and other tortuous reverberations constituting sheer terror. It can now also be defined by PJ Harvey.
“I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat,” she laments on “The Words That Maketh Murder.” “Blown and shot out beyond belief. / Arms and legs were in the trees.” This single immediately manifests the weight brought onto the musical battlefield with Harvey’s latest release, Let England Shake.
Named Rolling Stone’s “Best New Artist” in 1992 and “Artist of the Year” in 1995, Harvey has defined herself as a mercurial musician with a commitment to testing new waters.
“All I can say is that I’m pleased with it because I feel it’s a grand departure from anything before,” she said in a 2009 interview with Spinner. “If I’ve done that, then for me, it’s worked. I’m already feeling like I did, and I’m happy. I’m very pleased because I’m not repeating myself.”
Let England Shake is indeed something new. As one would expect from war-themed album, it has its share of minor scales and utter eeriness. At times, Harvey sounds so macabre, her sound itself would foster the feeling of gruesome death even if it weren’t for lyrics like “Death was everywhere / In the air / And in the sounds.” On tracks like “On Battleship Hill,” Harvey is able to conjure an almost Tarantino-esque epic-ness without sounding grandiose; her voice escalates to unfathomable heights above a simple strum signaling the oncoming blitzkrieg.
“I live and die through England,” Harvey proclaims on Let England Shake. This soulful patriot transports to revolutions much grander than imaginable today as her fervor is funneled through beauty and simplicity. “To you, England, I cling,” she concludes. “Undaunted, never-failing love for you. England.”