In years gone by, simpler more uncomplicated times maybe, you could look forward to an album release as just that, a new album by a band or artist that you liked/loved/adored/respected etc. Over time the lyrics may have undergone closer attention or even been subjected to some scrutiny, the artist may have later told you the inspiration, where it was written, who or what it was about. There was however often some mystery left in your own discovery of whatever album you'd happened upon or whatever song had grabbed you. There was less of a pre-amble and little chance of an essay by a PR company appraising you on the cultural significance of said material.
People are all different, thankfully, and some may love the detail new releases are afforded, some may want to know the ins and outs of every line before they've heard a note and for some the back story may make sense out of the content and thus make the album more understandable and ultimately embraced.
The new album from PJ Harvey, her 9th solo album, and first since her 2011 Mercury Prize winning 'Let England Shake', is most definitely an album that could either be confused by its paraphernalia or complimented by it; it's a question of balance and very subjective. For me, whilst not forgetting, or dismissing, how the album was arrived at, I'd prefer just to concentrate solely on whether the album's any good or not. (The book, documentary, photography, poetry, somewhat contrived recording etc, whilst in no way insignificant, shouldn't really detract from how good or bad the album is, they're just points of interest for consideration) Let the music speak for itself.
PJ is a serious artist with a lot to say, a lot to convey and in the most part a brilliant orator. When people ponder on where all the protest singers have gone they should look no further. One of the most significant is right here. 'The Hope Six Demolition Project', Harvey's latest album is an album of our time about our time. It may appear on occasion to be somewhat of an historical recount, unfortunately it's all too real and terrifyingly relevant. Songs about displaced people, poverty, depression, oppression and squalor amongst others sound Dickensian or even dystopian but these are issues we are presented with in ever more graphic reality every day and this is the core to PJ's latest work.
Where 'Let England Shake' signed off 'The Hope Six..' picks up after a five year gap with a seemingly consummate ease and rather unnerving quality; you can't help but be a little over awed by PJ's artistry and consistently high quality output. Having listened to the new album back to front and round again I can't quite reconcile myself with how good it is. My favourite track seems to change daily as something new is given up with each listen. Some of the song structures are not easily assimilated, some of the lyrics are more narrative, reportage pieces and some of the melodies and harmonies don't necessarily give themselves up easily but give them all time and they're without exception brilliant and beautiful compositions.
PJ's initial teasers from the album, 'The Wheel', 'The Community Of Hope' and 'Ministry Of Defence', do a great job of engaging the listener, pulling you in and making you sit up and pay attention. They are the albums more obvious, more immediate and (without criticism) more commercial tracks; however challenging and troubling some of the lyrical content maybe. The remaining eight tracks are equally, if not more significant.
Just as on 'Ministry Of Defence' we are treated to a swathe of angry guitar chords and whaling sax passages on 'The Ministry Of Social Affairs' we get a wonderfully sequenced bluesy 50's intro morphing into the most wonderful musical arrangement on the album, complimented perfectly by the best tortured sax solo you could imagine. The rhythmic, almost military, percussive positivity and vibrancy of 'Line In The Sand' work as stark contrast to the brutal reality born out in the song..."I saw a displaced family eating a cold horses hoof........set up tents, brought in water, air drops were dispersed, but I saw people kill each other just to get there first." 'Chain Of Keys', as many of the albums tracks, presents a similar juxtaposition of character vs content. It's as though Polly is being as straight forward as possible on some of her deliveries, swerving a need to be over emotive, letting each track breathe and build in its own right and not muddying the mix with any sentimentality.
When Harvey significantly deviates from this tack is on the sombre, sax accompanied, close out track 'Dollar, Dollar' and the sublime, vocally rich and delicately arranged 'River Anacostia'. PJ's voice here is truly angelic, a magnificent instrument in its element, delivering a devastating gorgeous track.
There is no doubt that 'The Hope Six Demolition Project' is a brilliant, multi-faceted, many layered album of beguiling beauty and unequivocal artistry. PJ has produced a magnificent follow up to here last album and once again affirmed herself as one of the UK's most formidable talents. 'The Hope Six...' album stands alone as a great eleven track album regardless of how it was arrived at, the rest is just.........
(Is it good enough to win Mercury number 3?? Well, it could be....is it better than Bowie? As sacrilegious as it maybe, I think it's as good)
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