Perhaps it appeals to my inner history buff, but the prospect of one of my all-time favourite artists choosing to write a war-inspired concept album was always going to be an incredibly exciting proposition. Turns out, she nailed it.
Let England Shake continues its predecessor’s foray away from Harvey’s traditional instrument of choice, the guitar, this time to the autoharp. There’s also an interesting selection of samples, with the dreamy Written On The Forehead lifting its chorus from a reggae classic by Niney the Observer while The Glorious Land, one of the album’s most polarising inclusions, works in a section of The Last Post.
The album is musically quite pleasant and catchy, but it’s only when one delves deeper into the lyrical content that the true darkness of the songs is revealed. Harvey researched extensively personal accounts of war and her hard work has paid off. She manages to beautifully articulate war’s destruction and pointlessness – On Battleship Hill describes the landscape faced by unknown soldiers as “Jagged mountains jutting out / Cracked like teeth in a rotten mouth”, while The Words That Maketh Murder spouts grotesquely “I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat / Blown and shot out beyond belief / Arms and legs were in the trees.”
An outstanding album both in concept and execution, whose message is only too relevant in this era of protracted terrorism-inspired conflicts. A classic of our time.