PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project Review

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PJ Harvey is one of those artists that are impossible to pin down and like the late David Bowie, she likes to shift and change direction often. It is because of this and her own eccentric individualism that she is still regarded as a powerful artistic force in British music. The fact she is only act to have claimed two Mercury Prize awards is testament to that. Her follow-up to the widely acclaimed Let England Shake from 2011 is The Hope Six Demolition Project. It is an album that has been recorded from her live performances at Somerset House in London last year and draws heavily from her travels in Kosovo, United States and Afghanistan over the last four years. She is looking to make another big impact with this new, well travelled material.

‘The Wheel’ is the opening track from the album and it features roaring saxophones throughout. These are set around loose, yet purposeful acoustic riffs and the understated power of the backing vocals. Polly Harvey’s own vocals are delivered with her typical rising vocals that move up in range with each line. The distinct imagery of the dark undercurrents of daily life in Afghanistan is something Harvey channels with a mix of subtlety and bluntness. It isn’t comfortable, but generating unease is what sets her apart. ‘Community of Hope’ is a song that makes direct reference to the album title which is a reference in itself to the US government’s Hope Six project which is countered with the title of Hope Six Demolition Project. She writes about the plight of poorer communities being forced out of their homes for gentrification processes. The song gives off an optimistic tone however, of communities standing up to the government and resisting the changes. Musically this is reflected by the buoyed piano chords, ringing guitars and the bursts of saxophones in the chorus along with the backing vocals which give off a sense of euphoria which Harvey matches with her own vocals. Another great track, but with an altered tone.’The Ministry of Defence’ is broken and staggered in a deliberate and bold manner by Harvey to leave the rhythm on edge and the listener dependent on the next burst of blocky instrumentation. The only constant is Harvey’s slick vocals which ooze confidence against the intimidating sound. Relief arrives in the chorus with lax backing vocals behind more sustained structures. It always threatens to fall away and subsequently does, unearthing the war-ravaged and doomed lyrics of the demise of us all. It’s quite the experience.

‘A Line in the Sand’ is largely percussion driven and delivered by Harvey with a wiry falsetto. The song is clunky in nature that gives off the nature of a folk tale or an old story. The lyrical content of mass murder is a sad but true reflection of the times we live in and the ringing guitars in the background add that reflective unsettling feel. ‘Orange Monkey’ is made up of a rumbling assortment of guitars, percussion and electronica with added riffs ringing out from the tightly packed sounds. Her vocal falsettos are utilised too as instrumentation whilst she sings in a gruff and baritone way. A track that is creative as it is theatrical. ‘Chain of Keys’ is delivered in a brash fashion akin to an eccentric western soundtrack whilst ‘The Ministry of Social Affairs’ is a cinematic ode to the Blues. On a couple of tracks she loses her way slightly when it comes to the lyrics and these are unwelcome additions to what is otherwise another brilliant album. It is dark and deliberately brutal in places with music complementing it in varying and distinct fashions without employing new or innovative methods. She shows what can still be done with apparently worn out sounds and suggests that others simply aren’t trying hard enough; at least not as hard as her.

PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project = 9/10

 

Owen Riddle

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