10. PJ Harvey – ‘Let England Shake’ [Vagrant]
‘How do you stare into the eyes of death without over protesting or becoming too self-righteous? In this sense, ‘Let England Shake‘ shares similarities with William Blake’s ‘London”, in which both Harvey and Blake are innocent bystanders shocked by the horrors of what befall them.
On that note, ‘Let England Shake‘ is just effective as prose as it is musically in which Harvey laments in dramatic and sorrowful weeps. “England” sees our singer soullessly distressed, wandering in a seemingly aimless direction as she moans “I live and die through England” through disenchanted lullabies, woeful backing vocals accompanying. It’s a bleak England that Harvey lives and dies in as she bemoans: “the grey damp filthiness of ages/And battered books/And fog rolling down behind the mountains/On the graveyards of dead sea-captains” (‘The Last Living Rose’), all the while filled with piles upon piles of the deceased, “Let England shake/Weighted down with silent dead“, Harvey mourns. It’s an interesting outlook on war considering that she premiered ‘Let England Shake‘ on the Andrew Marr show.
Musically, it’s just as haunting. The looming trumpets of ‘The Glorious Land’, are suffocated by reverberant auto harps, a saddening reminder of the dark cloud that grasps the majority of the record, all the while maintaining the seemingly triumphant regal tone of ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’, the chanting chorus ushering the coffins of perished lives that are constantly referenced.
Harvey still doesn’t let go easy with closing track ‘The Colour of Earth’ where she anguishes on a soldier that’s “nothing but a pile of bones‘, auto harp droning like a death march. There’s a sense of optimism but underneath that blanket, there’s an absence of forgiveness for our war crimes. The colour of the earth? Melancholy black. – Alex Yao