I remember bemusement when I first heard a live recording of ‘Let England Shake’, complete with “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” refrain; it was not endearing. But when the album arrived, the abrupt, cheery opening melody quickly slides away to expose something more integuing and broody. ‘Let England Shake’ is the most coherent album of the year, and probably of a number of years before too. Musically and thematically, it’s wonderful throughout. It stands apart from PJ Harvey’s other work too. Frustratingly, I’ve missed her touring the album, but I find it difficult to imagine it mixed in with anything else from her extensive career. The record has a high peak, ‘On Battleship Hill’, the incredible ‘England’ through to the final soaring refrain of ‘In The Dark Places’ is a really wonderful set.
I was lucky enough to get a last-minute ticket to PJ Harvey’s show in the Warfield, San Francisco, in April.
It was a fantastic concert, partly because she pretty much only played music from the album. The material is so thematically linked that most of the other songs wouldn’t have fit, and the solution was simply not to play many.
April was a hard month for me. I was really hitting the first of a couple of bad patches last year, this one centred on a real feeling of homesickness. Despite hardly being a depiction of the best of the nation, Let England Shake really helped remind me of London and the countryside. Seeing the concert was some sort of cathartic, I think.
(NPR has a recording of part of the concert, if you’d like to listen.)