PJ Harvey’s latest album ‘Let England Shake’ was recorded in a 19th Century church in Dorset, on a cliff-top overlooking the sea. It was created with a cast of musicians including such long-standing allies as Flood, John Parish, and Mick Harvey. It is the eighth PJ Harvey album, following 2007’s acclaimed White Chalk, and the Harvey/Parish collaboration ‘A Woman A Man Walked By’.
Such are the bare facts. But what is remarkable about Let England Shake is bound up with its music, its abiding atmosphere – and in particular, its words. If Harvey’s past work might seem to draw on direct emotional experience, this new album is rather different. Its songs centre on both her home country, and events further afield in which it has embroiled itself.
The lyrics return, time and again, to the matter of war, the fate of the people who must do the fighting, and events separated by whole ages, from Afghanistan to Gallipoli. The album they make up is not a work of protest, nor of strait-laced social or political comment. It brims with the mystery and magnetism in which she excels. But her lyric-writing in particular has arrived at a new, breathtaking place, in which the human aspects of history are pushed to the foreground. Put simply, not many people make records like this.