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Strictly Albums Of The Year: Let England Shake – PJ Harvey

Released 11th February 2011 by Island Records

Chart Performance: Let England Shake peaked at number eight in the UK chart but has already gone gold and continues to enjoy healthy sales. It charted in the Top 10 consistently across Europe and reach the Top 40 in the US.

What The Critics Said: “You’re left with a richly inventive album that’s unlike anything else in Harvey’s back catalogue. Let England Shake sounds suspiciously like the work of a woman at her creative peak” Alexis Petridis, The Guardian

If you’re American or European Let England Shake is an amazing, 9/10 or better album, full of intricately created, serenely sung, compositions that posses an unholy haunting quality. If you’re from the UK and Ireland, Let England Shake is one of the most important releases of the pop era (1950 to present). A defining statement on war, suffering and society that cuts deeply at the psyche of an entire nation.

It’s a putrid masterpiece of severed limbs, bloated corpses and most of all rotting flesh. Every image of traditional Englishness or natural beauty is contrasted with a deeply melancholic bass line, a quivering refrain and a sickening image. Despite this weight of grief, PJ Harvey’s study of the British at war is as light as a feather, possessing an ethereal air, as if the words are sung by some ageless spectre who has seen lives lost time and time again, but rather than raging or hectoring, she simply sighs and reflects.

Let England Shake proves so affecting thanks, in large part, to Harvey’s hearty commitment to the sound of her motherland. She dedicated years to uncovering and perfecting the sound of Old England, folk Britannia, our pagan, otherworldly counter culture: the darkly innocent England that fostered The Wickerman and The Woman In Black.  When this new side of PJ is interwoven with her well established lo-fi rock aesthetic and hazy tricks, the results were simply phenomenal.

The heavy hand of history permeates her shallow cries and gentle croons. The blood of Passchendaele and The Somme, the killing fields of Caen, and the imperialist anonymity of Iraq and Afghanistan become inseparable from the charming sounds of oblivious Britain. The warmth of her compositions belies the complicity of a thousands souls simultaneously saying “oh you naïve little girl” as she calmly delivers the lines; “I’ve Seen And Done Things I Want To Forget/I’ve Seen Soldiers Fall Like Lumps Of Meat/Blown And Shot Out Beyond Belief/Arms And Legs Were In The Trees”.

Let England Shake cuts deep, touching the fabric of a society built as much on the lost limps of the voiceless as the grand speeches of intellectuals and artisans. PJ Harvey has captured the voice of nation whose one-day of national solitary comes not from a celebration of life and liberty but of death and remembrance. So undeniably intrinsic is Let England Shake, that it draws comparison not to Beatles and Stones, but Kipling and Tennyson; less an album, more an artifact of quintessential Englishness. A Timeless masterpiece. David Hayter



Author: david

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