Shakin’ all over
PJ Harvey’s most recent album, deals with themes of war and violence. Will it all prove too heavy for this month’s album clubbers? Daragh Downes finds out
WHEN Mary McEvoy tells you she had to stop playing Let England Shake after just three listens, you brace yourself for a scathing review. But it turns out Mary is paying PJ Harvey the mother of all compliments. “I found that her voice was hitting a place I didn’t want it to hit. My own personal history is such that I have to mind my moods or else music affects me very much. So I ended up putting on Madonna’s Celebration instead!” of Harvey’s earlier work, and a particular fan of Is This Desire?, she was turned off by 2004’s Uh Huh Her. The piano-driven balladry of its successor White Chalk didn’t do anything to win her back.
What intrigues – and relieves – her about Let England Shake is the “quirkiness”. Without this, she argues, the album’s thematic darkness would be just too much to take. “The lyrics are quite dark, but I think PJ Harvey tries to leaven them with the melodies, the arrangements, the instrumentation, even with the range of her voice. It’s also very interesting in terms of the chord progressions, the harmonic progressions, the time signatures. I think this is more sophisticated than some of her previous stuff.”
A return to form, then? Most def. “I think any fans she might have lost along the way will certainly come back for this one.” into this kind of mocking, fierce quality. I find it uplifting. Obviously it’s still extremely dark, extremely disturbing. To me, though, when those kinds of feelings are transmuted into anger, it almost brings them through to a kind of calming place. It’s funny, because she’s railing against apathy and yet there’s almost an acceptance, a resignation, that this is the way it is. It really affected me.”
Meljoann likes the way Harvey doesn’t try to draw her listener in with cheap shock tactics or facile political point-scoring. Instead we are given access to “an intensely personal sick feeling, which is the instinctual reaction a lot of us have – whether we think of ourselves as political or not – against violence”.
Word of warning: “Don’t put this on if you’re feeling amazing, it’ll make you think more deeply than you want to.”