PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Vagrant Records)

Whether you’re a PJ Harvey fan or not, you have to credit her with sticking to her guns throughout her twenty-year career. With all of the acclaim she’s received, from critics and big-name musicians alike, it would be very easy for her to soften some of the rougher edges in her music and go for a big payday. Instead, she’s chosen to follow her own muse and make music that can be challenging, but also extremely rewarding. Let England Shake, her eighth album, is in some ways her most challenging work to date – not because the songs are abrasive or hard to listen to. On the contrary, they’re actually pretty melodic and sonically easy to digest. What makes it daunting is its lyrical theme – a condemnation of England’s military history. Not exactly a record for a Saturday night out with friends

Despite the downright gruesome lyrics like “Soldiers fell like lumps of meat” from “The Words That Maketh Murder” or the call and answer “And what is the glorious fruit of our land? Its fruit is deformed children.” from “The Glorious Land”, the vocals on this album are some of PJ Harvey’s most interesting to date, as she explores a new-found register that harkens back to classically “ethereal” singers like Kate Bush or Elizabeth Fraser. Nowhere on the album does the juxtaposition of violently apocalyptic lyrics and beautiful vocals work better than “Written On The Forehead”, which sounds like nothing else in the PJ Harvey discography and makes excellent use of an entirely unexpected sample of Niney The Observer’s classic “Blood and Fire”. Not since Black Sabbath unleashed “War Pigs” has an attack on militaristic death and destruction sounded so good.