Top 5: PJ Harvey

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PJ Harvey
Let England Shake
Vagrant
Street: 02.15
Let England Shake is Harvey’s tenth studio album. If you’ve followed her 20-year career, you’re aware she strives to make each album different than the previous. I spent weeks buried behind my headphones listening to her every word within the horrifyingly beautiful socio-political battle she created. When I came up for air, I had two words to describe this piece of work: bloody brilliant. Studying the anti-war poems of Harold Pinter and dedicating two years perfecting her writing of the lyrics, she paints disturbingly vivid images of conflict, war, death and grief over a backdrop of buoyant folk-pop melodies. She tells the story of England’s past, present and future. Harvey demands attention singing “The West’s asleep/let England shake” over bouncy auto-harp on the title track. Her lyrics roll in and out like London fog over a quivering guitar, shaky snare and baritone sax on “The Last Living Rose.” The most disturbing sing-a-long moment is “The Words That Maketh Murder,” which includes the chilling line, “I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat/Blown and shot out beyond belief,” and references Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” with the line, “What if I take my problems to the United Nations?” One of three songs citing the 1915 battle of Gallipoli is “Battleship Hill,” as Harvey cries, “A hateful feeling still lingers/Even now, 80 years later/Cruel Nature.” A traditional bugled battle hymn of the U.S. Cavalry is included on “The Glorious Land,” while “Written on the Forehead,” samples Niney the Observers’ “Blood and Fire.” This album won Harvey the coveted Mercury Prize, making her the only artist to have won it twice. The time is now to hail Queen Polly Jean!
–Courtney Blair

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