Let England Shake (Vagrant)
Reviewed by Audra Schroeder, Fri., March 4, 2011
PJ HarveyLet England Shake (Vagrant)
Much will be said about the continental drift of PJ Harvey's latest, but compare the bodice-rippers of 1992's Dry to the corseted piano penance of 2007's White Chalk and the bigger picture becomes clear. In between, Harvey's shrugged off expectations and criticism, made deviations, and channeled desire on her terms. With Let England Shake, her eighth studio LP, she ups the octave and pulls up the bloody roots of her homeland's past. Not the strangest turn; Harvey's lyricism always felt drawn from England's bosom, and if any singer-songwriter can make nationalism sound poetic, it's Polly Jean. Autoharp is the instrument of choice this time, which gives standouts "The Words That Maketh Murder" and "Written on the Forehead" a languid reggae feel, with longtime collaborators Mick Harvey and John Parish chanting along in protest. On the title track, Harvey asserts, "England's dancing days are done," and on the sax-ified "The Last Living Rose," she bleats about the "gray, damp filthiness of ages." These aren't her usual tales of desire – not physical desire, at least. They're the female gaze on war and violence, and sometimes it's quite visceral, like closer "The Colour of the Earth." Sometimes it's simply gray and damp, like throwaway march "The Glorious Land," reflecting the spiritual love/hate relationship at play. For all its dissent, Let England Shake is a fairly muted album, yet it demonstrates where PJ Harvey is now: more chronicler than provocateur.