“I find that over the years, I don’t think I’m really a musician–I’m much more interested in the words … I need to make a bed for them.” — PJ Harvey, Feb. 13, 2011 interview with BBC’s The Culture Show
After 20 years and eight albums, PJ Harvey’s ability to create honest, through-the-ages music should be rendered the PJMP–the Polly Jean Music Phenomenon. There is as much speak as there is song in her music; this is the quality that holds firm in her followers. And in her lastest LP, Let England Shake, she closes in on war, conflict, and civil unrest. Sounds typical, but in true PJ style, her approach is refreshingly humble.
As she explains in the above-mentioned BBC interview, the album concept was sparked by half-seriously recognizing the shortage in official war songwriters. Harvey explains that there are officials writing on war, standard front-of-the-line correspondents, and authors who politicize uprising, but there is no one appointed to sing war correspondence in the journalistic style. (To this I say, well of course not. We journalists don’t sing.) Anyhow, Harvey self-appointed to one such role, “trying to report back … in an impartial way, an unbiased way, yet in a very human way.”
As if I couldn’t love her music anymore, Harvey has to tell me that the words come first? Woman, you are seriously brilliant. According to Harvey, she only plays an instrument or sings a melody when she’s actually putting the song together; the lyrics have been living long before that. This can be heard in Let England Shake–it is entrenched in story and depiction, and Harvey’s brave but simple melodies strike as a memorable frame for her lyrics. Take the bones to my favorite track, “The Last Living Rose”:
Let me walk through the stinking alleys
to the music of drunken beatings,
past the Thames River, glistening like gold
hastily sold for nothing.
Let me watch night fall on the river,
the moon rise up and turn to silver,
the sky move,
the ocean shimmer,
the hedge shake,
the last living rose quiver.
Let me listen to you always, PJ. You rock my creative little heart.