Let England Shake
In the wake of 2007’s spectral White Chalk, Polly Jean Harvey turned her songwriting focus outward. Dismayed by the direction of politics in her British homeland and around the world, she set to writing lyrics—fever-dreamish poems that used brutal imagery and borrowed lines from older music—that worked through her sadness and anger. Using three autoharps, each tuned to different, dissonant chord configurations, she transformed the verses into striking, sad songs. Let England Shake is an elegiac 21st-century reimagining of the protest album, an urgent call to end global cycles of war that hits harder because of its ghostly sonics.
Harvey’s voice is the focal point of Let England Shake, although its timbre sharply contrasts with the shredded wailing that made her harsher ‘90s records so celebrated. On songs like the rain-spattered “The Glorious Land” and the swirling “Hanging on the Wire,” she’s in the upper reaches of her range, adding a pleading edge to her cutting observations; she hovers over the echoing chords of “On Battleship Hill” in an unnervingly beautiful way, heightening the horrors once committed on that site. “The Words That Maketh Murder,” meanwhile, accentuates its grimy images with bleating brass and a snippet of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” that simutaneously calls back to the post-World War II era’s seemingly endless promise and mourns the present. Let England Shake evokes the fog of war while puncturing it with potent reminders of its bloody reality.