Mercury Prize Day 11 – PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

16 Aug

PJ Harvey is a true artist. She can draw, paint, produce, write, sing and play. She’s fantastic and a true inspiration of mine and I really respect her. What I’m trying to get at is that I love her and I’m pretty bias about this record. Regardless of whether you like her, have never heard of her or not you can’t not appreciate this LP.

Polly Jean Harvey has come back from her Mercury Award Winning album Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea in 2001 which is taken from her time in New York and comparing them to her memories of the English Seaside. Let England Shake takes the approach of a war theme album. In the development before she went into the studio she researched the Gallipoli Campaign as well as talking to those involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She cites poetry by Harold Pinter and T.S. Elliot in some of her songs too. In addition to all of this, Harvey learnt to play the autoharp which she says she enjoyed learning. She is the most successful musician in terms of the Mercury Awards having been nominated four times and has succeeded in winning once.


The album kicks off with a mystic feel in the titular track Let England Shake which seems to flaunt her new theme voice. Her voice (as she has said in interviews) acts almost like a narrator, as this album truly is a story. You need to listen to this album at least once from start to finish without skipping tracks or stopping. The Last Living Rose was debuted at Camp Bestival in 2009 which shows how long this album has been in the making. This song is almost her love letter to England with beautiful lyrics and may favourite opening line ever ‘God damn those Europeans, take me back to beautiful England’ I really enjoyed that line. For the record I am not English, I just live in London and it is my favourite city in the world so it’s got nothing to do with being from there.

The Glorious Land is the most different from any of her previous work and the rhythm is perfectly developed along with her vocals together with her backing singers. The Words That Maketh Murder is my favourite song on the album with her displaying her autoharp practice. It is catchy and has the next best line which is sung to perfection ‘What if I take my problem to the United Nations?’.

All & Everyone depicts the disgusting site of death, writing about seeing dead bodies and how war fields can be the most affecting sites. Death was all and everyone and don’t you forget it. On Battleship Hill is a bit shaky and intricate and her voice is more high and you can tell that it must’ve taken a lot of practice. It’s out of her comfort zone but still perfect. England is more acoustic and the first song that you notice the guitar the most. The violin trails beautifully at points behind but her vocals and guitar playing (she played the guitar for this track as well as many others see who did what for each track on the wikipedia page for the album and you can see how much she actually did). In The Dark Places is more like her White Chalk days and feels a bit heavier than other tracks. Her voice is more deep and Alison Mosshart (she came to mind weirdly enough).

Bitter Branches is theatrical and shows all she can do in the best way possible. The theme doesn’t at all lack and you can follow a story and it doesn’t confuse you very much. The last time I can remember the best story on an album was the best record of last year, The Suburbs by Arcade Fire. Hanging On The Wire is slightly poppy but Polly is never poppy. This is one that you could feel like at a point and want to play on your iPod out of the blue. This album is incredible but you need to be in the right mood to listen to it.

Written in the Forehead has the most powerful lyrics of the whole album and feels slightly Western. This is one song that shows you what a clear vision this woman had and the vivid production idea in her head. The Colour of the Earth ends the album perfectly and concludes the journey through war that she and her band take you on.

This album is a superb story. This is a masterpiece, a majestic piece of art and can make you fall in love with Polly Jean Harvey all over again. I unfortunately can’t go to her show at The Royal Albert Hall (I’m so annoyed!) so if you can snap up the last tickets I would go! She’s a talented woman and her band are fabulous too. She’s been the favourite among critics with NME giving her a full score (very rare) as well as the Guardian and the Telegraph plus many more giving her full marks. Buy. This. Album.

Score: 10/10

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