IT’S FINALLY here. Five long years have passed, but finally, finally, PJ Harvey’s follow up to her amazing Let England Shake has landed. In a process that saw the singer (unsurprisingly) travel to Afghanistan and Washington D.C. for inspiration, as well as letting people view her recording, The Hope Six Demolition Project was born. It’s not been an easy ride; firstly we wait what felt like a lifetime for this, and secondly the album has come under fire from officials in D.C. over Harvey’s description of their housing programs. So, was it worth it?
The short answer is: yes, yes it was.
The long answer is yes, but this is far from Harvey’s best album.
If Let England Shake changed your life on first listen, then The Hope Six Demolition Project is more of a slow burner, and something that you will come to love and appreciate over time. It’s certainly not an album I’d use to introduce listeners to PJ Harvey’s body of work. Think of it like Is This Desire? to To Bring You My Love, except over a much longer period of time. But that’s not to say that Hope Six is a disappointing or bad album, because even Harvey’s less-good records are still great.
But maybe there are a few dud points on this latest album. On the whole, the record is very enjoyable, but it’s easy to cherry pick points which bring the album down a bit. For example, the vocal melodies in the chorus of ‘Near The Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln’ are pretty crap. They’re rushed, out of place and just don’t fit well at all. The song is great, apart from that one bit. Elsewhere, Polly’s lyrics are somewhat less poignant then they have been on past releases. Be it the ‘they’re gonna build a Wal-Mart here’ in ‘The Community of Hope’ or ‘so I took a plane to write down what I found’ line from ‘The Orange Monkey’, there’s something not quite right about some of the lyrical work here.
But when you look at Hope Six as a bigger picture, it becomes a lot more enjoyable. ‘The Community of Hope’ is a really decent protest song that feels angrier than a lot of Harvey’s more subtle work in Let England Shake. As does its follower ‘The Ministry of Defence’ which has this really powerful, chugging guitar riff that is interspersed with Harvey’s yowling vocals and the backing vocals by John Parish and Terry Edwards. ‘The Wheel’ completes the (dispersed) trilogy of ‘hits’ off this record; pounding, excellent, catchy, rebellious numbers that are definitely the highlights of this record.
However, some of the less obvious cuts are still really nice. The tracks ‘Chain of Keys’ and closer ‘Dollar, Dollar’ are both quite haunting and low key. Harvey’s vocals are often spotlighted with minimal instrumentation, something which will always work in her favour. Parish and Edwards contribute some backing vocals here that definitely lend themselves to the atmospheres created here. On the other end of the spectrum, Hope Six sees Harvey bring back some snarky, sneering vocalisations to this record, much like something she would have done earlier in her career. ‘Medicinals’ tackles Washington D.C. once again, with Harvey seeming to criticise the people she sees hanging around the capitol streets. ‘The Ministry of Social Affairs’ has Harvey’s voice building along with the instrumentation into a cataclysmic climax that twists into chanted vocals and bat-shit crazy saxophone solo that’s easily one of the finest moments on the entire album.
Musically, The Hope Six Demolition Project isn’t a far cry from Let England Shake. At points it feels like more like a continuing exploration of the themes of politics and war, but the extensive addition of saxophone, and PJ Harvey’s sneering, less passive vocals help set it aside from her last work. The Hope Six Demolition Project may not be Harvey’s finest hour, but even when she releases an pretty normal album by her standards, it’s still usually excellent.
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