I'll be honest, I hadn't heard much of PJ Harvey before this year. I'd heard the name, but hadn't ever really heard any of her past seven studio albums. There was a lot of hype about this album: lots of raving reviews and chart-topping stats, but I still resisted based on the fact that I knew almost nothing about it. But finally, just a few months ago, I got the album and it was one of those albums where I just "got it" instantly: the brooding lyrical devices, PJ's catchy vocal performances, and the somber production. Everything I'd heard about the album made sense and I found myself really enjoying it right from the get-go (which is a bit rare for me).
The album starts with the title track, "Let England Shake", a simple song with some great lyrics that spell out a grim future for the singer's home country ("England's dancing are done"). The track lays out the thematic and musical framework for the entire album quite well, as most of the album exists within the theme of England, war, and death (sounds great right?). PJ really does the expansive themes justice with some great wordplay and original metaphors. Let England Shake isn't so much political as it is reflective and honest about the country that she clearly feels passionate about. You won't hear PJ calling out politicians, but you'll hear her allude to the destructive power of war and express feelings for a country glorious past.
Musically, PJ's multi-instrumentalism is deemphasized in this album in favor of focusing on her jangly guitar playing and autoharp strumming. The instrumentation and structure of the songs is really quite simply, but the entire album is incredibly cohesive in how it sounds. There are no songs that stick out as not fitting in any way and there really is something refreshing about her willingness to stick to that specific sound for the entire album. Standout songs for me were definitely "Words That Maketh Murder" and "England". The album really is meant to be heard straight through, or at least in three or four song chunks. Its only gotten better since I started listening to it, so I'm considering it definitely to be one of my favorite albums of the year so far.