Polly Jean Dislikes Repeating Herself

by | Feb 19, 2011

I’ve never purchased an album by PJ Harvey before, but today I did. And I have every confidence that the $7.99 I spent with Amazon.com is money well invested.

Here’s a video for “The Words That Maketh Murder,” track number four from the new album, Let England Shake.

Alexis Petridis of The Guardian says the new work is “a richly inventive album that’s unlike anything else in Harvey’s back catalogue.”

The music sounds muted, misty and ambiguous, which seems to fit with Harvey’s vision of England: “The damp grey filthiness of ages, fog rolling down behind the mountains and on the graveyards and dead sea captains,” she sings on The Last Living Rose.

Scrupulously avoiding the usual cliches that arise with self-consciously English music – Kinksy music-hall observations, eerie pagan folkisms, or shades of Vaughan Williams – the central sound is guitars, wreathed in echo that makes them seem as if they’re playing somewhere in the middle distance. Around them are scattered muzzy electric piano, smears of brass, off-kilter samples and musical quotations: a reference to Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues somehow works its way into The Words That Maketh Murder, while an incessant trumpet reveille sounds during The Glorious Land, out of tune and time with the rest of the song.

Harvey recently appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air. Take half and hour and listen to Harvey discuss her work. She’s hypnotic on record and on radio.

NPR describes the album’s topics are brutal and bitter. Soldiers, landscapes and limbs are yanked apart, “falling like lumps of meat / blown and shot out beyond belief / arms and legs in the trees.”

It took Harvey 18 months to compose the music for Let England Shake, a process she undertook only after writing all the lyrics. Many of the songs feature the autoharp, an instrument she began playing only four years ago while touring for her album White Chalk.