In her eighth studio album, Polly Harvey has taken a significantly different route from any of her previous works. There is little resemblance to the grunge of her first releases, nor is there any likeness to the sparse piano and breathy vocals of her last album, White Chalk.
Instead, Harvey has done what it seems every contemporary musician is doing, and embraced the tenets of folk. Yet don’t let her succumbing to this current trend put you off: this is a woman who seems to succeed whatever the musical endeavour. Strumming an autoharp throughout, the twelve tracks explore the rather heavy concept of war. This is an extremely political record – befitting an album that was first unveiled on Andrew Marr’s show with Gordon Brown looking on.
From a woman who has explored so many different musical directions, this is vocally her most accomplished record to date. It seems that Harvey has abandoned any constraints she may previously have felt. We have here an album with a sense of freedom for experimentation, embodied by none of her previous releases to such an extent. Throughout her earlier dalliances with different styles, Harvey had always sustained a sense of precision, which she here abandons with both positive and some not-so-positive results. At times her use of syncopated rhythms and discordance can feel messy and uncomfortable and yet it is also what makes the album so fascinating.
Let England Shake is not even close to what I had (or anyone else could have) anticipated, and is experimental even for Harvey. This is not the PJ Harvey you know, this album is an abrupt progression from anything she has made before, but for this reason alone it is well worth a listen.