Singing the word England: PJ Harvey, without apology

Will England find its voice? PJ Harvey’s acclaimed new record opens with 'Let England Shake': a blood lust for the ancient practice of English Revolutions, and an uncanny hymn to possible future ones.
Tamara Barnett-Herrin
17 February 2011

PJ Harvey’s acclaimed new record opens with the title track, ‘Let England Shake’. It is an eerie, intimate song, all spacey autoharp and brushed cymbals. It reaches out for a martyr whose smile might save England from its rot: ‘Bobby’, who will splash around in ‘a fountain of death’ and ‘laugh out loud’.

It’s a blood lust for the ancient practice of English Revolutions, and an uncanny hymn to possible future ones - and all the repressed forces they might unleash. Strange and apt that this record should be released now, striking a weird harmony with the reverberating aftermath of Egypt and Tunisia and the rumbling overtures in the rest of the Arab world.

Harvey sings:

The West is lost, let England shake

Weighted down with silent dead

I fear our blood won’t rise again

Harvey has always found a way to sing the unsayable and here she sings the word England without apology. The album is a dirge for England and also a warning.

Watch out to take care of your English shame, your English pride, and your English indifference - lest they be lost in blood spilled elsewhere in pointless, nameless war.

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