The female figurehead of alternative music is visiting Manchester’s Apollo to play a sold-out show just two days after the Mercury Music Prize winner is announced. This will essentially be her first show after Mercury history could well be made – PJ Harvey is front-runner to become the first act in the prize’s history to win more than once.
Having already been nominated four times, more than any other, she has once again proven her reputation for innovation and an ability to delve into new territory. “There are very few musicians […] who can go on developing completely new ideas, new sounds, and new curiosities about the world and PJ Harvey is just astonishing”, Simon Frith, the chair of judges, told BBC 6 Music.
Let England Shake is a passionate exploration of the battlefield, concentrating on human experiences brought about by war, the most tragic of animalistic acts. Principally using an re-tuned Autoharp, Harvey evokes an eerie, out-of-step, ethereal auaral experience, with dark minor chords and samples placed off-beat. Despite its challenging structure this concept album is quite easy to take at face value. You’ll often find yourself humming along to the words without realising the tragic descriptions of horror you are recounting.
Harvey has always been a politically influenced person but never felt able to bring this into her work, not believing herself to be skilled enough to tackle such a task. Let England Shake is the universally acclaimed realisation of the vision to do so, thus proving her to be at the top of her game. It took over two and a half years to write, a process which saw Harvey study deeply, taking in war photography and poetry. The result seems to be an album heavily influenced by trench warfare, the effect on the people that make up the nations involved, and its scarring impact on the landscape – the one constant throughout intermittent patches of conflict.
Words by Simon Butcher