February 11, 2011 11:50 pm

PJ Harvey: Let England Shake

PJ Harvey

Let England Shake

(Island)

5 star rating

 

Inspired by the work of western war artists in Afghanistan and Iraq, PJ Harvey has made a powerful, deeply layered album about warfare.

It opens with the title track’s vision of “The West’s asleep, let England shake,/Weighted down with silent dead”, set to an eerily upbeat xylophone melody. The bar is set high – and Harvey doesn’t let the quality slacken. The songs present a kaleidoscope of views, from soldiers fighting in the trenches at Gallipoli to Fallujah’s deformed babies, with England as the pole around which the action revolves. In “England”, Harvey depicts her homeland as “the country that I love”, yet also a stagnant, deathly place; her voice – high-pitched, wraith-like, a gothic Kate Bush – entwines with that of a female Kurdish folk singer.

George Orwell’s description of the “deep, deep sleep of England” in the 1930s comes to mind – except instead of complacency in the face of looming catastrophe, Let England Shake depicts a country poisoned by an unfinished century of bloodshed.

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