Monday 24 July 2017

Music: Let England Shake by PJ Harvey ****

(Island)

John Meagher

John Meagher

One of the great things about Polly Jean Harvey -- and there are many -- is her refusal to repeat herself. Try to second guess where she's going next, and she will confound all expectations.

This, her follow-up to the spectral, sparse and intimate White Chalk, could hardly be more different. Its sound is expansive, its theme universal. There's politics here, and history, geography and sociology too. Her native land is under the microscope and she casts a discerning, erudite eye, not least when it comes to war -- the album's recurring motif.

Yet, even long-term Harvey fans -- this writer included -- might struggle with the album initially. It's less "giving" than its predecessors on early acquaintance and several of the lyrical references might require the sort of knowledge normally reserved for University Challenge.

But it's this refusal to offer prosaic platitudes that makes Harvey such a compelling voice, whether it's inspired by her country's majestic landscape or its ravaged campaign in Gallipoli almost a century ago. Served by a myriad of instruments -- brass and organs among them -- her ambitions prosper.

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