Let England Shake
- Reviewed by Charis Scott-Holm
- Published on February 23rd, 2011 at 5:21p.m.
PJ Harvey is the most prolific of today's artists- she graces my music collection in quantities more than any other, yet with every offering sounding distinctly different it is almost like buying a different performer every time.
Building on themes from earlier songs like the patriotic 'Leaving California' and the haunting 'The Soldier', she crafts together twelve songs, most describing scenes from World War One, such as battles of Gallipoli, but also many which have universal themes and could be from any past or present conflict.
'Let England Shake' has some of the whimsical qualities of Harvey's 'White Chalk', the percussive notions of 'A Man A Woman Walk By', and the macabre matter of far earlier material like 'Is This Desire?', all tied together to create a striking collection collating the horrors of war.
In my opinion, this album is far more about the lyrics than the music, which stays in familiar PJ guitar and percussion territory most of the way through, and the most important instrument is Harvey's voice, which ranges from hysterical to sombre song dependent.
With most of the songs not even reaching the 3 minute mark, and often fading out at the end, it is as though they offer a snap shot, a mere snippet, of a far greater story.
Some are written from viewpoint of soldiers, such as 'The Words That Maketh Murder' and others are from a far-off, detached stance, such as 'This Glorious Land', which is parodying a hymn, like it is damning the righteousness of war by speaking of some of war's victims- “deformed children”, in a very child-like manner.
Harvey even takes exception to the sentimentality of other war songs- with 'Hanging In The Wire' featuring the lyric “There will be no birds signing the 'White Cliffs of Dover'”.
I'm not sure whether or not soldiers would have taken any comfort in the words of Vera Lynn, but they certainly wouldn't have taken any in the gruesome or haunting words of 'Let England Shake'.
A fantastic testament to the true reality of war, one which could stand with the greats of war literature like Sassoon and Owen, 'Let England Shake' is not so likely going to shock England today, despite many people today being affected by England's actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, but more likely provide a vivid portrayal of a time when the population were really shook by the tragedy they lived, or survived, through.