February 16, 2011

Test Spin: PJ Harvey

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English-born Polly Jean Harvey began her career in the 1990s, when she started a band she called PJ Harvey. Since then she has performed and recorded albums as a solo act, but often in collaboration with other musicians. While shuffling through different collaborators over time, PJ Harvey has also drastically changed her own look and the sound of her music for each new album, making for a diverse fan-base and interesting sound.

Let England Shake, PJ Harvey’s eighth studio album, sees her changing her sound and experimenting once again. Recorded in a church in her hometown, the album deals with complex and even dark themes, such as war and patriotism. However, Harvey’s voice is unusually whimsical and almost childlike (most prominently in “On Battleship Hill” and “England”), giving what she describes as a “narrator” style to the music. This is a stark contrast to her usually more mature voice and adds an interesting element of innocence to the serious themes.

The beautiful lyrics stood out the most. While not everybody enjoys alternative or indie rock, anybody can appreciate the poeticism of songs such as “Let England Shake,” the opener to the album. PJ Harvey has stated that she often writes her lyrics first, without consideration to music. Let England Shake makes this vividly apparent — while the music is beautiful, the lyrics stand out the most.

While Let England Shake has a number of great songs and beautiful, haunting lyrics, the songs are not knit together well as an album. Each song is rather short and feels like a delicious taste-tester, but seems to get cut short before reaching its potential. I, for one, would prefer a full meal rather than a sampling dish. The rock tradition of concept albums has recently been revived by contemporary musicians — perhaps Harvey’s Let England Shake would be even better if she took the same approach.

— Jackie Krasnokutskaya

Original Author: Jackie Krasnokutskaya