Friday, July 29, 2011

Roots That Grow Up

My first published meditation in ZANI on PJ Harveys' new diamond album "Let England Shake!"

Roots That Grow Up Polly Jean Harvey’s New Language

Polly Jean Harvey’s newest album 'Let England Shake' is yet her most sincere voice ever and it certainly holds ground in today’s divisive climate with its title. Go ahead and toss the other sounds of 2011 out as this is the only album that is saying anything that's new and reflects the spirit of what's going on in today’s world. The album isn't just directed at Harvey’s home country, England, or at least her intention wasn't only to share through English eyes as there is a universal message she's delivering. She wanted it to be a connecting source to other humans wherever they are living as she made sure to tap into the shared push and pull we all have with the nation of our country, wherever we are. We all suffer disappointments in what our governments are doing, what wars are being waged in our names and the album keeps that universal flow and feel moving throughout.

From the jaunty closing refrain taken from Eddie Cochran’s, "Summer Time Blues" turned "Why don't I take my problem to the United Nations" is a real comedic, depressed and sarcastic coda. It does seem her song's character certainly can't imagine anyone else helping besides a peace keeping body. However many black passages there are on Let England Shake it is not a record that I see crying revolt but rather longing to breed unity.  PJ has not only heavily concentrated on the words used to create the English folk, mystical, revered dream pop atmosphere on this album but she has also created a new language for herself. The poetess has always been highly aware and in tune with worldly issues so this isn't a big change for her. She just has never laid an album out with this kind of political language because she felt she didn't have the proper skill as a writer to speak about political climates in songs. Two years later, after the seed had been planted she began her intensive study into a deeper political language and her long awaited star seed was born making a record fit that even your mom could listen to and love. The melodies are not very heavy and unless you're tuned into the lyrics, the songs seem harmless and no-disturbing. This is something Abba was always good at doing...combining upbeat music with  melancholy or dark lyrics and it always works...although Abba would never have depicted "soldiers falling like lumps of meat." Oh how the blackbirds do envelop Harvey’s dark writing that we all love so!

No, Let England Shake is not a heavy or disturbing album simply because the music is kept light and happy... and yes that accompanied with white roses was a great Mothers Day gift. The album made its long awaited debut in February so if you haven't gotten the album yet I'm really not sure what you've been waiting on! It's one you will respect and then also continue to love. Go get it and let the penmanship and beautiful, somewhat tame sounds, sink into your sound canal.

Expect Polly’s usual soaring, siren vocals with a slight hint of her peers and successors fragrance : Kate Bush, Lene Lovivch, Joanna Newsome  and  as always there's her intricate song structures. This is no Dylan electric just because Polly has developed a new language.  It's just fresh, new penmanship and subject matter that goes to a strong, new political place. Polly studied Afghani and Iraqi peoples voices and poets so that she would have a strong sense of what her new poems would be like before putting the music to them. Her heart, soul and mind took these contemporary poets words as offerings and used them as a guide to approach the new language she ventures into, selecting her  words first then having the instrumentation follow and you don't have to be English or care about its history to become enchanted by Harvey's conjuring spell.

One of the many things I can certainly attest to is that our soulful Polly Jean has always known how to bring herself and her listener into a kneeling, hand shaking prayer position using words. Her backing band featuring Mick Harvey (former Bad Seeds guitarist), long-term collaborator John Parish and Jean-Marc Butty have strong roots.  There is nothing that is coming up from the ground when they are together....perhaps we can say then that this is the album where Polly Jean’s roots grow up. Let England Shake isn't dreamy like White Chalk. It's a very lucid album and I think the timing is perfect. I think it's high time we all woke up from the land of ghosts and thieves to see what's going around and down in the world, even if it is somewhat veiled by the music. An experienced Harvey listener won't have to navigate, an experienced Harvey listener is already awake and has taken a look around, knows what's going down. And then there are those that gotta be shaken up in order to wake up from all the ether of the past, the ones who are still being seduced by the media, the ones that are prisoners and clueless. Who knows, maybe this album will speak a language that will shake and wake them...It's true, the heaviness of Harvey’s lyrics, combined with the lightness of the music, mimics our strange world today.

 In the past, whenever I've wanted to be carried away into another landscape, PJ has always been there rooted as one of the most intelligent, creative women in rock and roll. This is one of her best albums to date as she continues to grow, grow and grow with a language that really is universal. The album holds up extremely well with repeat plays. I think she's done a brilliant job shifting us from the ether to the real world. It's clear and powerful in her prose and poetry. I hope we see more of her new language in the future and contrary to what's been said about Polly Jean she's not a contradiction or a mess , she's a storyteller and a damn good one at that! This time her story telling is one universal voice but no contradictions, no mess....just a strong rooted 41 year old Harvey whose roots have grown up.  In a world where so many people are seduced by mass applause, Harvey isn't one of them. I have to ask as I think she might too..."Look around you ... do you like the world around you?"  I like it when Harvey’s in with me, Faultless, Honest and Utterly.

© Words Wendy Rose Watson/ ZANI Media


Still finding my 'voice' as I know this prose isn't quite perfection and a kind thank you to ZANI Ezine  for letting this outside voice of mine in their beyond cool publication!