Few words can encapsulate the latest PJ Harvey release, “Let England Shake.” Lead singer Polly Jean Harvey (“PJ”), whose style also rejects any possibility of labeling, takes listeners on a familiar yet fresh musical journey as she paints vivid pictures of World War I.
Harvey’s tendency to fuse jazz and blues sounds with art rock is as evident as ever. Her bluesy disposition pairs well with the WWI storyline of the album. Harvey spins a yarn on “The Last Living Rose,” a catchy tune with real “pub anthem” potential.
The bugle on “The Glorious Land” is reminiscent of a wartime bugler and serves as a warning for the oncoming onslaught of WWI imagery. References to the brutality of war continue to abound on “The Words that Maketh Murder,” the album’s first single. Harvey growls for her vocal performance here, producing a chant-worthy song concert-goers can look forward to.
“Written on the Forehead” serves as the “must download” track of the album. Harvey interweaves delicate vocals through a U2-esque melody. Bandmates John Parish and Mick Harvey share the microphone with Harvey to produce a haunting, bluesy feel. Haunting, too, are the lyrics, which depict a tragic scene. The second stanza offers this imagery: “People throw belongings, a lifetime’s earnings, amongst the scattered rubbish and suitcases on the sidewalk.”
The album finishes on a high note with “The Colour of the The Earth.” Polly Jean, Parish and Harvey call upon many guests for the song, including Jean-Marc Butty, Sammy Hurden, Greta Berlin and Lucy Roberts. Together, PJ Harvey and friends concoct a beautiful sing-along ballad to close out the album.
Few albums can be enjoyed from start to finish without a lull in enjoyment for the listener. “Let England Shake” is one of those albums. Do not let the label of “concept album” deter you from experiencing Polly Jean’s latest offering. Rest assured knowing that she achieved an album that is both accessible and enjoyable.