“Let England Shake” – PJ Harvey
Let England Shake is a timely record, another important voice added to the chorus of dissent and dissatisfaction, with the hope of making it harder to ignore the violence of our reality. Let it not fall on deaf ears.
A church in Dorset was the barracks for the production of PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake, and the genesis of its writing reportedly occurred when Harvey was going through a phase playing an autoharp. While this is indeed angelic imagery, it must emphasised that Harvey is no Christmas Special cherub, she leans far more towards Old Testament fury. “The West’s asleep,” she sings, “let England shake.” Both England and America stand in for Sodom and Gomorrah, their impenitent sins taking the form of gross apathy on behalf of the citizens and greedy bloodlust from their leaders, and Polly Jean has taken it upon herself to prophesy and mourn their self-destruction.
On BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show last April, Harvey performed the eponymous track from her new album, where unfortunate happenstance had Gordon Brown seated in the audience. This is the irrelevant detail that’s fed the politically-inclined rumor-mongers in the press surrounding Harvey’s latest, Let England Shake, a detail she’s been quick to dismiss as not an incisive response to his presence, just coincidence. However she did admit in an interview that it gave her a little satisfaction, and if you listen to the album it’s plain to see why. The overarching message of the album is a scathing attack, an indictment of the way the Western world squanders its greatness on a culture of violence and conflict. It also addresses the fallout of those actions, in scope both large and personal. “The Words That Maketh Murder” is told from the perspective of a battleground observer and the grizzly scene including “flies swarming everyone,” soldiers falling “like lumps of meat,” and “arms and legs in the trees.” This evokes some of the grim imagery we’ve seen in the news in the past year, from WikiLeaks infamous AC-130 video to photos decrying the use of .50 caliber bullets on unarmed protestors by Qadaffi’s forces in the past week. Let England Shake is a timely record, another important voice added to the chorus of dissent and dissatisfaction, with the hope of making it harder to ignore the violence of our reality. Let it not fall on deaf ears.
– Jake Cleland