The ever dynamic PJ Harvey is releasing her much anticipated follow up to 2011’s Let England Shake. On April 15th her ninth full length recording The Hope Six Demolition Project arrives at the usual musical outlets. Harvey has acquired some impressive accolades since her last outing, won a second and record breaking Mercury Prize for “Let England Shake” and was awarded the MBE in 2013 for her contributions to British music.
She returns with The Hope Six Demolition Project which was inspired by her travels in Kosovo, Afghanistan and the US especially Washington D.C. In D.C. she toured the city with photographer Seamus Murphy. There she encountered the everyday occurrences of life in a city of extremes, where ultimate power and powerlessness reside side by side. The new release is no less politically charged than Let England Shake but takes a more global focus.
There was a lot of attention given to the production of this release as Harvey recorded the album in a custom built recording studio in London’s Somerset House in front of a live audience. The studio was part of an art instillation at the location from 1/16/2015 to 2/14/15. The album was produced by Flood and John Parrish. Harvey wrote the songs for the release and her poetry book The Hollow of the Hand during her travels. As with any Harvey release she dips into her immense multi instrumentalist skills fleshing out the album with saxophones, auto harp, bouzoukis and various percussion items.
Harvey has in her twenty plus year career encountered controversy usually brought on by her forthright lyrics. On “Let England Shake” she examined the state of England and what she saw as its slide into the abyss. On “The Hope Six Demolition Project” she takes on the world and the chasm between the powerful and the powerless. Even before the album was released Harvey stepped into controversy with the lead off single The Community of Hope and the title of the album which utilizes the name of a Washington D.C. revitalization plan. Harvey and many see the project and ones like it as a social cleansing technique; rather than a means of improving the neighbourhood for the current residents. The a fore mentioned track “The Community of Hope” leads off the album.
The song’s stylings are energetic and forthright and take off where “Let England Shake” left off, same problems different local. The selection decries the materialistic gentrification that rips apart communities and simply pushes the problems elsewhere. It is a case of band aids over bullet holes. It counters officials who think the problems for downtrodden neighbourhoods can be solved by putting a Starbucks on every corner; wrong solutions to intractable more complicated problems. All the while opportunists make money while the residents can no longer afford to live in the area. The song is a potent indictment of this type of community improvement.
The protest vibe is no less on The Ministry of Defence which opens with a buzzsaw gritty feel. At first the song is simply Harvey’s vocal over a grinding guitar then the entry of the full accompaniment kicks in with a heavy martial feel. The song is brutal and relentless in it’s anti war convictions, portraying a rubble strewn wasteland; proclaiming “This is how the world will end.” The song asks if military conflict is ever effective, and who really pays the costs.
A Line in the Sand and Chain of Keys are companion pieces to “The Ministry of Defense”. Both songs question how we approach conflict in the 21st century and demands we find new more effective solutions. The two tracks describe horrific images of war. They are dark brooding pieces ruminating on the waste of conflict.
The album shifts its focus to America with River Anacostia which combines a southern spiritual treatment with tribal drums for a powerful track. It also harkens back to Harvey’s song Down by the Water and adds another entry into the volume of songs Harvey sings about water and rivers. Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln was inspired by Harvey’s time in D.C. She points out the striking paradox of these very sombre and moving memorials turned into tourist attractions where little reverence can be found by the people milling around in loud Hawaiian shirts eating ice cream. She conveys the unseemly but true atmosphere perfectly.
The tracks Orange Monkey and Medicinals are bit underwhelming compared to the power of the prior tracks. “The Orange Monkey” simply does not get off the ground; it has surreal beauty and a story book quality but never really reaches a satisfying conclusion. Likewise “Medicinals” combines a very tribal percussion vibe with a Kate Bush styled treatment. Here the topic is an attempt to contrast the old known herbal remedies to today’s pharma-culture offering its latest panaceas and the self medicating selections of alcohol and pills. The song is interesting but needs a little something more.
The final third of the album returns to the impact of the beginning of the release. The Ministry of Social Affairs is a blues infused track that examines conformity and the dumbing down of society. The discordant saxophone and chanted slogan near the end of the song provide a very menacing atmosphere. Another arresting track is The Wheel which is a great rocker. The song is informed by Harvey’s time spent in Afghanistan and Kosovo. It talks about how these conflicts have affected the children. Harvey describes the abrupt end of childhood that takes place. The song’s ending is hypnotic as the lyric “I watch them fade out” is repeated over and over.
Harvey ends with the moody and gripping Dollar, Dollar where she uses found street sounds in a foreign city centerw to underline the poverty and squalor faced by much of the world. It is the first world sitting in the car deaf to the cries of the third world begging for help. The song floats to its end on a mournful saxophone solo.
With The Hope Six Demolition Project Harvey catalogues many of the ever present horrible occurrences that plague mankind. The release is brave and insightful and Harvey’s voice is always something to enjoy no matter how dark the subject matter. There is a bit of weakness with the songs Orange Monkey and Medicinals which makes the release somewhat uneven and not quite as good as Let England Shake. However topically Harvey is pulling no punches and the release is powerful and striking. The album delivers the artistry that many expect from Harvey and is certainly a worthy addition to any Harvey fan’s collection.