By David Colburn
Before listening to Let England Shake, PJ Harvey’s eighth album, it would perhaps be appropriate to quietly observe the work’s cover; executed in a dark and distinct intensity that invokes emotion but does not overwhelm, the album art may serve as one of the best indicators of musical content in recent memory.
The title track ignites in an infectious melody that connects multiple influences in an incredibly solid manner. Its appeal is immediate and its sentiment thought-provoking, but the track progresses with a natural exuberance that avoids over-analysis. Each work on Let England Shake commands a similar condition: songs are not concerned with how their presence will be perceived, but simply being present for the listener’s consideration.
An experimental quality still pervades throughout the album; from the fractured dissonance of “England” to the pronounced sonic eeriness of “Written on the Forehead,” yet no song ever stumbles to the unnecessary categorization of being “weird for the sake of weird”. In its accessibility, PJ Harvey’s latest album captures a sense of boundless energy that greatly recalls the folk revival of the 1960 in both melody and spirit. Politically-inclined lyricism is sturdily bound to distinct moodiness and every aspect is presented with some sense of purpose.
The only issue one may face when listening to the album is the duration of the listening experience itself; at only 40 minutes, Let England Shake almost feels like an EP by today’s standards. Though the album may leave the listener craving for more, one will find oneself returning to each track again and again; 40 minutes will simply serve as the minimum introductory experience.
As with many works of the singer-songwriter genre, there is an air of deception in the accessibility. Although it may seem to be an album of simple pop quality, certain aspects of Let England Shake may eventually implant themselves with an even greater meaning. It is plausible that such excerpts will exist next to the randomized sentiments of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits in a great mental collection of lyrical poetry.
Still, observing the album’s cover invokes a very simple, yet unapologetic personal reaction; this is a success. Sometimes, a work can be judged by its cover.