Let England Shake is the eighth studio album by PJ Harvey. It was released on 14 February 2011 in the UK. Work on it began around the time of White Chalks release in 2007, though it is a departure from the piano-driven introspection of that album. The album was written over a period of two-and-a-half years, and recorded in a five-week period at a church in Dorset in April and May 2010. The album's first single, "The Words That Maketh Murder", was released on 7" vinyl and download, backed with the b-side "The Guns Called Me Back Again". The album entered the UK album charts at #8, her second release to debut within the top ten in the United Kingdom, and the first since Rid of Me in 1993.
Harvey began concentrating on writing lyrics for the album before setting the words to music. She has cited the poetry of Harold Pinter and T.S. Eliot as influences, as well as the artwork of Salvador Dali and Francisco Goya and music of The Doors, The Pogues, and The Velvet Underground. She has also spoken of researching the history of conflict, including the Gallipoli campaign, and reading modern-day testimonies from civilians and soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During her solo shows in 2007 and 2008, Harvey had begun playing the autoharp. She told local newspaper Bridport News in 2011: "I was really enjoying this different, enormous, wide breadth of sound that the autoharp gives. It's quite a delicate sound, but it's also like having an entire orchestra at your fingertips. I began by writing quite a lot on the autoharp, and then slowly as time went by, (because this album was written over two and a half years)… my writing started moving into experimenting with different guitars, and using different sound applications, ones that I had never really experimented with."
On the subject of a new vocal style for the album, Harvey commented that "I couldn't sing in a rich strong mature voice without it sounding completely wrong. So I had to slowly find the voice, and this voice started to develop, almost taking on the role of a narrator."
Harvey told Spinner in March 2009 that she had recorded demos for the album and planned to record in the spring of 2010, commenting: "All I can say is that I am pleased with it, because I feel it's a grand departure from anything before. If I've done that, then for me, it's worked. I'm already feeling like I did, and I'm happy. I'm very pleased because I'm not repeating myself."
After initially searching for recording studios in Berlin in the summer of 2009 while touring A Woman a Man Walked By with John Parish, Harvey instead opted to record in a church in Dorset. She told Bridport News: "I remembered that the man who now runs this church as an arts venue had said to me a few times if I'd ever wanted to use it for a show or rehearsals that he'd love that, and that's when I approached him and asked if we could use it."
The album was recorded in the church in a five-week period in April and May 2010 with long-time collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey, and with Parish and Flood co-producing; drummer Jean-Marc Butty added parts at a later stage. Much of the record was recorded live, and Harvey has described the recording as reasonably improvisational, commenting: "I wanted to leave room for them so they could bring their feelings into it as well. Usually I would have planned everything and known what instrumentation I wanted. This time I demoed the songs mostly with one or two instruments with a voice and that was as much as I had. So I basically had the chords and a couple of saxophone melodies, a couple of voice melodies and that was what I took with me to the church. We rehearsed the songs as if we were rehearsing to play them live and found quite quickly that we had only rehearsed a song through maybe twice and Flood had started recording us."
The album is notable for Harvey's first on-record use of the saxophone.
After seeing Seamus Murphy's "A Darkness Visible" exhibition in London in 2008, Harvey contacted Murphy as she "wanted to speak to him more about his experiences being there in Afghanistan". The collaboration grew, with Murphy taking promotional photographs in July 2010 before filming accompanying videos for each song on the album.
Harvey first debuted material from the album at two solo shows in July 2009, when she played "The Last Living Rose" and "Let England Shake". In April 2010, around the time of the album recording, Harvey appeared on BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show for an interview and performance of "Let England Shake", in front of then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Harvey previewed the album with a secret show at the church in Dorset where the album was recorded on 18 December 2010, performing all songs from the album among songs from her back catalogue.
A European tour is scheduled for February 2011, with a US leg in April, and festivals in the summer.
The album was released to widespread critical acclaim. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 88, based on 37 reviews, which indicates "Universal Acclaim". NMEs Mike Williams stated, "Francis Ford Coppola can lay claim to the war movie. Ernest Hemingway the war novel. Polly Jean Harvey, a 41-year-old from Dorset, has claimed the war album", and gave the record a very rare 10/10 rating. Amanda Petrusich, in her 9/10 review for Spin, praised its "bloody and forceful" sound, Victoria Segal in Q praised its "remarkable lyrics" and "ethereal music" and gave it top marks, while Peter Paphides in Mojo called it an "uncannily timely piece of work", with the artist at "her most powerful". Alexis Petridis in The Guardian, awarding the record a 5-star rating, called it "a richly inventive album that's unlike anything else in Harvey's back catalogue" with the artist "at her creative peak". Uncut, giving it the "Album of the Month" accolade, said that it is "the sound of someone as maddened as they are enthralled, aglow with anger and passion." In The Daily Telegraph, Neil McCormick awarded it five stars out of five, calling it an "extraordinary album" and "a profound and serious work from a singer-songwriter at the height of her powers, a meditation on mankind's apparently endless appetite for self-destruction". Financial Times Ludovic Hunter-Tilney also gave it five stars, calling it "a powerful, deeply layered album about warfare" which "depicts a country poisoned by an unfinished century of bloodshed", while Andy McGill in The Independent stated that the work "may be her best album", described it as "a portrait of her homeland as a country built on bloodshed and battle," and awarded it four stars out of five.
Let England Shake entered at #8 on the UK Albums Chart with first-week sales of 22,468. This was an improvement of over 8,000 sales on the debut of Harvey's previous solo album, 2007's White Chalk, and made Let England Shake Harvey's second career UK Top 10 album - and first for 18 years, since Rid of Me peaked at #3 in the spring of 1993.
The album also entered at #32 on the Billboard 200 with sales of around 18,000, making it her second highest-charting album in the US after Uh Huh Her peaked at #29 in 2004.
* PJ Harvey – vocals (1–12), autoharp (1,4,5,12), saxophone (1,2,4,5,8), guitar (2,3,5,7,8,11,12), zither (6), violin (7)
* John Parish – drums (1,2,5,7–9,12), trombone (1,2,4,5,8), xylophone (1), Mellotron (1,7,12), Rhodes (1,8,11), guitar (2–4,6,9,10,12), vocals (2–6,8,9,11,12), percussion (3,4,6,11)
* Mick Harvey – piano (1,6,10), bass harmonica (1,4,5,8,9), drums (2,4,11), organ (2,5,7,8), vocals (2–6,8–12), Rhodes (3,6), bass (4), percussion (4,6,11), guitar (8,9,11), xylophone (9)
* Jean-Marc Butty – drums (3,6,8,10,12), vocals (3,5,6,8)
* Additional vocals on tracks 8 and 12 by Sammy Hurden, Greta Berlin and Lucy Roberts
ReferencesThis text has been derived from Let England Shake on Wikipedia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License 3.0