Monday, June 27, 2011
Expand and elaborate
I had unfortunately "lost the thread" to Polly Jean Harvey a couple times over the years, which has obviously been my loss. The first time was shortly after the release of her third studio album, To Bring You My Love (1995). The second time I committed this unforgivable act was not too long after she reemerged upon my consciousness via the long defunct PBS live music show, Sessions at West 54th, in 1999 performing tunes from her then current release, Is This Desire?, with longtime friend/band mate John Parish.
There is no viable excuse. Everything I've heard by Miss Harvey is brilliant. The only feeble defense I can put forth is that I am a poor multitasker. When I become occupied with a particular group, musician, and/or genre I tend to neglect all others. PJ Harvey is the metaphorical child left forgotten in a vehicle and I am the negligent father. Hyperbole? A bit, maybe...
The tables have now turned, though. She has created an album which has made me forsake any other recording that has ever existed (now, THAT is hyperbole!). The truth is that I have listened to nothing else since hearing the stellar title track to Let England Shake on Radio 6 this past Friday. Not only is it the best album to come out this year (so far... to be fair, since there are six months left) but it could be PJ Harvey's best, which is saying a lot. It's also possibly one of my favorite albums of all time... which is probably not be saying a lot.
Yes, I am a wee bit late to the party. Let England Shake was released on 14 February and it has garnered quite a bit of well-deserved critical acclaim (surprisingly most of the reviews seemed to be pretty spot-on for the album). Harvey has always had a knack for writing great lyrics that grab your emotions, and she writes what I believe her best for Let England Shake. Her proses of the mortal fear and losses suffered during the First World War ("All and Everyone", "On Battleship Hill", "Hanging in the Wire", "The Colour of the Earth") are integral to the album's overall theme of England's past bloody imperial glories and self-destruction, and with the nation's current psyche of still trying come to terms with its consequences. The most poignant song to me is "England", which Harvey articulates her ambivalence towards her homeland with such a raw and pure honesty as to make my heart break each time I hear it:
Most albums seem to have at least one element that isn't up to par, whether it's the lyrics or the music. That is not the case on Let England Shake. The music itself is equally as fantastic as the lyrics, and share the latter's dichotomy of simplicity and depth. The album feels personal and intimate. There isn't one wasted moment on any of the tracks. It should considered the standard of efficient effort by which all other albums should be measured. More hyperbole? Well, yes but hopefully you get my point.
If you haven't already gathered from this post, Let England Shake is a absolutely stellar album, me thinks. I'm sure that I deserve a good slap for the audacity to forget about PJ Harvey, and I believe that I owe it to myself to obtain the rest of her catalogue.
Here are the rest of the wonderful short films by Seamus Murphy which accompany Let England Shake: