5. Let England Shake

Dave’s Albums of 2011
5. Let England Shake by PJ Harvey

In a musical landscape that seems increasingly diluted with talent-show winners created to make money rather than music, it is refreshing to see that artists can take such pride in their work. It is also reassuring that they receive the praise they deserve, as Let England Shake is perhaps the most critically acclaimed album of the year.

I’ve been writing this review for a few hours now and I’ve decided to scrap most of what I’ve written, as my writing skills are far weaker than the album I am describing and there has been so much written already that covers the points I want to make.

To begin, here’s an interview with PJ Harvey, that came following her victory at the Mercury Prize this year. I have included it as it discusses the content of the album very succinctly and also is a great insight into the thoughts behind the album.

As the interview notes, there is a striking contrast throughout the record between the music, which is generally cheery and surprisingly catchy, and the lyrics, that speak of war, death and disaster. Despite the darker themes the lyrics carry, Polly’s use of vocabulary is wonderful. You appreciate them more when you read them (all lyrics available on her website), so as an example, here are the lyrics to All And Everyone.

Death was everywhere, in the air
And in the sounds coming off the mounds of Bolton’s Ridge
Death’s anchorage
When you rolled a smoke or told a joke
It was in the laughter and drinking water
It approached the beach as strings of cutters
Dropped into the sea and lay around us

Death was in the ancient fortress
Shelled by a million bullets
From gunners, waiting in the copses
With hearts that threatened to pop their boxes
As we advanced into the sun
Death was all and everyone
Death was all and everyone

As we, advancing, in the sun
As we, advancing, every man
As we, advancing, in the sun

Death hung in the smoke and clung
To 400 acres of useless beachfront
A bank of red earth, dripping down
Death is now, and now, and now
Death was everywhere, in the air
And in the sounds coming off the mounds of Bolton’s Ridge
Death’s anchorage
Death was in the staring sun
Fixing it’s eyes on everyone
It rattled the bones of the Light Horsemen
Still lying out there in the open

As we, advancing, in the sun
As we, advancing, every man
As we, advancing, in the sun
Sing “Death to all and everyone”

England is a key theme of the record, with placenames scattered throughout along with brilliant decriptions of English things, like dead sea captains and grey, damp filthiness. The emotional mix of patriotic love for our great country and disapproval at the despair it has caused seems, well, very English. This is best captured in the song England.

A withered vine
Reaching from the country that I love
England
You leave a taste, a bitter one

While her words feel very personal, they express experiences and emotions that are universal, thus allowing her to connect with all people everywhere of any age from all periods in history.

Here is an entertaining review of Let England Shake that discusses Harvey’s quirkiness, beautiful, delicate singing style and songwriting talents.

I was lucky to have seen PJ Harvey this year, playing a set consisting mainly of this album. I’m not sure what to say about it other than she was excellent live, the mixed crowd loved it and she was notably polite. So thank you Polly for a great album.

★★★★★

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One Response to 5. Let England Shake

  1. Pingback: Dave’s Top 5 Albums of 2011 | Fran and Dave's Musical Adventure

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