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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - The Album Club -

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.”

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