Skip to main content

PJ Harvey: Let England Shake

A bravura love-hate letter to her troubled homeland.

In another dazzling leap forward following the ghostly piano reveries of White Chalk, Polly Harvey’s eighth album takes a sonically adventurous avant- folk-rock tour of a filthy, bitter, blood-soaked dystopian England.

Lyrically, it is reportedly the Dorset diva’s least autobiographical work to date, yet it seethes with biting anger about the state of the nation and our imperial antics abroad, drawing inspired historical parallels between the World War I bloodbath of Gallipoli and recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not that Harvey’s elliptical poetry ever resorts to preachy literalism, but there are concrete hints in the woozily hypnotic All And Everyone and the roaringly dramatic, falsetto-voiced On Battleship Hill. Elsewhere, the perfumed heat-haze of an unnamed Middle Eastern warzone is brilliantly evoked in the shimmering, Cocteaus-ish Written On The Forehead.

Harvey has come a long way from her scouring blues-rock roots. But this bewitching album, loaded with exotic sounds and alien beauty, may well be her best yet.

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.