by Joseph Sarrington Smith
After a five year hiatus, PJ Harvey has returned with her first studio album since Let England Shake. With two Mercury Prize wins and an MBE, a lot of us would probably be happy to rest on our laurels and call it a day. But this is PJ Harvey we’re talking about, one of the most important, original artists working in the industry, and with this album, I certainly admired her interesting decision to record the album at Somerset House, allowing members of the public to get a glimpse into the creative process.
Inspired by trips made to Washington D.C., Afghanistan and Kosovo with photographer/filmmaker Seamus Murphy, The Hope Six Demolition Project is essentially a collection of observations and stories recorded in a direct and urgent manner. You can really hear the voices of the people that Harvey met and the lyrics paint a vivid picture in the listeners mind. I’m sure it would’ve been an incredible, yet sobering experience.
Upbeat opener “The Community Of Hope” with it’s conversational lyrics and defiant chorus looks towards optimistic new beginnings.
“The Orange Monkey” chugs along with intimate percussion as Harvey’s voice slowly rises up from the moody male harmonies.
Then there’s “The Wheel”, a stunning track featuring hand-claps and stonking sax, reminding me of the more dramatic folk rock moments on her last album.
I should also mention that some of the more unusual instruments that featured on Harvey’s last album make a comeback on this one (including hurdy-gurdy!).
Harvey has received some criticism for documenting a series of problems without offering any solutions, with the most cynical detractors suggesting that she’s tried to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes without really going anywhere at all. However, if I were to jump to her defence, I would interpret this album as Harvey just trying to get a message across in the way she knows how. And anyway, when faced with global-scale issues, how many of us mere mortals can truly admit to having any idea as to how we’d go about trying to fix things?
Having now tackled issues both at home and abroad, I’m curious to see where Harvey goes next. I can only hope we won’t have to wait another five years to hear the results.