A solid, unified album revolving around a single theme is not something that comes along very often. PJ Harvey’s eighth album release, Let England Shake, not only centres on the “grey, damp filthiness” of England, but, in particular, of England at war.
Following on from White Chalk, in which fans found Harvey singing in the upper registry accompanied by her newly-discovered piano, Let England Shake sees Polly Jean continue with her higher vocal style, but this time with an autoharp and saxophone. Mick Harvey (Birthday Party, The Dirty Three, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) joins PJ Harvey again, along with long time Harvey collaborators John Parish and Flood (Mark Ellis).
Recorded in Dorset, (Harvey’s place of birth) and in particular, in a church, the album has a melancholic, almost hollow feel to it that may come with recording in such a resonating environment. Constantly aiming to reinvent her style, Harvey uses an array of new instruments, off-beat samples and musical references. In fact the title track, Let England Shake, is sung to the tune of The Four Lads’ 1953 hit, Istanbul (Not Constantinople) played on a xylophone. There are also elements of The Police’s, The Bed’s Too Big Without You on The Glorious Land which incorporates a bugle call performed by HM Irish Guards. On Battleship Hill is lyrically beautiful, but Harvey’s high pitched warble can become frustrating.
During an interview on the Andrew Marr show back in April last year, PJ Harvey said, “My biggest fear would be to just replicate something I’ve done before” and maybe this explains why her latest album is like nothing she’s done before.