PJ Harvey in Paris, Valentine's Day 2011

I can’t get enough of PJ Harvey at the moment.

Her new album, Let England Shake, was released yesterday and is simply an amazing piece of work.

It takes as its theme England’s role in wars past and present, yet despite this subject matter these cannot be classified as straight protest songs. Instead they are a form of reportage as if she had already accepted the post of ‘official war song correspondent’ offered this week by the Imperial War Museum.

Polly Harvey lets the atrocity of human conflict speak for itself and is more of a lament for wasted lives than an exercise in finger pointing at warmongers.

The album has rightly been greeted with widespread critical acclaim. One exception is an uncharacteristically sloppy review from Rob (‘Electric Eden’) Young in this month’s Wire Magazine. Young absurdly argues that the record “feels crudely stitched together, recorded on the fly” .

It is true that it took only five weeks to record but this was preceded by a wealth of research and try-outs. Young also hears an Irish accent on The Glorious Land which I can’t detect and I fail to see how any reviewer can write a piece on the album without once mentioning the extraordinary song – The Words That Maketh Murder. It is as if Young feels obliged to adopt a contrary viewpoint to assert the magazine’s precious ‘avant-garde’ status.

The genius of the album should have been plain to those without cloth ears when Polly and her band of three took to the stage for a special show in Paris (streamed live as a webcast last night).

For the show she looked fantastic in a long white dress similar to the one she wore for the cover of White Chalk, together with elegant rooster-like head plumage. The Parisian audience seemed quite subdued in response to the new songs, probably because most were probably hearing them for the first time. They were more enthusiastic for the quartet of older songs she played as an extended encore – three from 1994’s To Bring You My Love (Down By The River /C’Mon Billy/Meet Ze Monsta)  and Silence from White Chalk.

Her band were the same as those who play on the album – Bad Seed, Mick Harvey, drummer Jean-Marc Butty and long term collaborator John Parish. As I watched, I was struck by the fact that for all the sophistication and poetry of the songs they feel like a form of primitive pagan folk music. This is a perfect vehicle for a song cycle which reminds us that the carnage and emotional trauma of warfare, ancient or modern, never really changes.

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