PJ Harvey’s newest album, Let England Shake, is one of her best yet and is both beautiful and haunting. Her voice cycles through so many iterations throughout the album that you will find yourself enjoying the tone. Then, as you listen to the lyrics, it makes you think about the world and specifically her homeland.
It is hard to describe what Let England Shake is. It could be a protest and awareness album like U2’s War, or it could be a dystopian statement about England’s legacy of and continued embedding in the machinations of war. PJ Harvey must have been thinking a long time about England’s war history and its failing culture based on the passionate writing found on this album. It’s almost funny that, despite the heavy undercurrents, Let England Shake is a very enjoyable record with many different musical tones and an almost ethereal energy in PJ Harvey’s voice.
The songs are all consistent in their message, but change cadence and pacing. They flow together in a wonderful way that encourage multiple listens to appreciate the haunting beauty. From the opening chords of “Let England Shake” and the words ‘The West’s asleep. Let England shake, weighted down with silent dead. I fear our blood won’t rise again.’ The tone is set and we are brought along on PJ Harveys journey. “The Last Living Rose” then shifts gears and looks at what has been lost in England through the expansionist and war cultured ways of the people. Other songs like England further promote this fear that the culture is too indebted to its military culture. When PJ Harvey sings ‘Withered vine reaching from the country that I love England you leave a taste a bitter one’ you can tell that her passion for her home is strong, but tinged with sadness.
The message continues throughout the album with songs like “The Colour of the Earth”, “On Battleship Hil”, “Hanging in the Wire”, and “The Words that Maketh Murder” with lines like ‘I’ve seen and done things I want to forget; I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat, Blown and shot out beyond belief. Arms and legs were in the trees.’ These lyrics haunt you with the imagery but are sung in a way that you actually find yourself matching the tone and humming along before you stop and realize what the message is.
That incessant tug on your brain of opposing lyrics and beautiful vocal rendition are the true strengths of Let England Shake. This is album is as much a message on the effect of war as any Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan could be, but it is also a look at the cultures that are shaped by war. Let England Shake is a fantastic album not just for its message and tone but also the haunting beauty of the vocals and music itself.