PJ Harvey's The Hope Six Demolition Project: What You Need To Know
Five years have passed since PJ Harvey became the first and only artist to win the Mercury Music Prize for a second time with her eighth studio album, Let England Shake. Since then, the Dorset-born singer-songwriter has been awarded an MBE for services to music and embarked on a journey with photographer Seamus Murphy that took in visits to Afghanistan, Kosovo and the housing projects of Washington D.C., resulting in a collaborative book of poems and photographs called The Hollow of the Hand, released in October last year.
This week though she returns to her music career with her ninth album, The Hope Six Demolition Project. Harvey has a reputation for reinvention, restlessly shifting her style and approach from one album to the next. So what can we expect this time around? Here's everything you need to know...
A little background...
Anyone who paid a visit to Somerset House in January or February last year may remember an installation called 'Recording in Progress', which featured PJ Harvey and her band conducting the initial recording sessions for what would become The Hope Six Demolition Project. The sessions were open to the public, who were able to watch through a one-way window while Harvey and her band laid down music to the lyrics she had been writing for the album over the previous two years. In a five-week period, some 3,000 people in total were invited to peer through a window into both the basement studio and PJ Harvey's creative process.
Who's producing it?
Longtime producers Flood and John Parish are producing the new album and were both present during the five-week recording sessions in the Somerset House basement.
Any special guests?
Nope, it's pretty much just PJ Harvey and her band.
What does it sound like?
Given Harvey's habit of radically reinventing her sound, the contrast between the new album and Let England Shake isn't as stark or as dramatic as you might expect. In the run-up to the release of that last record, Harvey had spoken of changing the way she wrote songs, concentrating much more on creating lyrics first before beginning on their musical accompaniment. That might explain why the shift here is less pronounced than the difference between Let England Shake and its predecessor, as judging from the lyric sheets strewn around the walls of that perspex studio, the process seems to have been very similar in that regard.
In fact, it's in those lyrics that the biggest change is evident; if Let England Shake was an exploration of the darker aspects of the nation she calls home, here the focus is broadened to a more global level and the running themes throughout The Hope Six Demolition Project seem to concern the destruction of – or displacement from – one's environment, whether that be through war, gentrification or other means.
The album's opening salvo 'The Community of Hope' is a case in point, taking aim at a particular Washington D.C housing project whose regeneration has forced out many of its residents. Over a bed of fizzing guitars and rattling drums, Harvey rails against its failings: “Here's the Hope Six Demolition Project / Stretching down to the Benning Road / A well-known pathway of death / At least that's what I'm told”.
It's a similarly bleak picture elsewhere on the new album; 'The Wheel' uses the image of an empty swing roundabout as a metaphor for disappearing children, set to a backdrop of handclaps and strumming guitars, while the funereal, saxophone-led 'Chain of Keys' depicts an old woman abandoned in a desert and 'The Orange Monkey' juxtaposes an upbeat, folk-influenced melody with lyrics about streets “that look like building sites.”
Does it deliver?
If you're a fan of PJ Harvey's music you won't be surprised to learn that this album isn't always an easy thing to listen to – hardly surprising given the lyrical content - but her knack with a melody prevents The Hope Six Demolition project from becoming inaccessible. It isn't quite as immediate as Let England Shake, but the songs here are well crafted and this record will do nothing to harm PJ Harvey's reputation as one of most unique and important artists around.