PJ Harvey - Let England Shake (5 stars)

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PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

(Island)

There she goes, marching forth, marking irretrievable distance between her military coat-tails and the rest of the contemporary rock battalion flagging in her wake. Again.

A glance at the track-list and a cursory scan through PJ Harvey’s staggering eighth solo album may suggest that we are grooving on familiar territory – that is, a realm of bluesy, pastoral rock as embellished by long-term allies John Parish, Mick Harvey and Flood; plotted by song titles that reference murder, darkness and bitterness – but don’t be fooled.

Where previously Harvey has explored the insular, the personal and the physiological; the folkloric, the gothic and the symbolic; so now she excavates her land, its heritage and its bloody conflicts. She’s looking backwards, looking outwards, and wrestling with questions of national identity.

The album may be embedded in clarion autoharp, brass fanfares, and sing-a-long handclaps, but it sure ain’t pretty. On ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’, for example, Harvey sings of shot-up bodies and decapitated limbs hanging out of trees in a playful, nigh-angelic cadence that’s augmented by sunny rockabilly riffs. This contrast – conflict, even – between welcoming melodies and horrifying imagery is at the heart of Let England Shake’s dramatic and compelling force.

From the Cocteaus-reggae of ‘Written on the Forehead’ through the protest-folk of ‘The Colour of The Earth’, this is a weighty, thrilling undertaking. ‘This Glorious Land’, meanwhile, is a delirious album highlight and signals Harvey’s first-ever foray into bugle-pop. Clearly she still has much ground to cover. Let us hope she never rests.

The Colour of the Earth: PJ Harvey

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