The Songs That Win Awards

Congratulations to PJ Harvey, who tonight won the 2011 Something Something Mercury Award, the most important music award in the UK. It’s the second time she’s been the winner; first time round, in 2001, announced on that fateful day, for an album that was a love letter to New York. This time, she’s won for an album that distills the last ten years of war, putting them in historical context of England’s role in previous wars (mostly The Great War).

And you have to say, she’s probably the most worthy winner (along with Elbow) ever seen. Once I finally got round to listening to it, I realised that this was something special. Sounding unlike anything she’d made before, yet distinctly her own sound, this was a record that dragged you into her world, with all resistance rendered useless. Sometimes making you laugh out loud (“What if I take my problem to the United Nations?”), sometimes wince in sympathetic pain (“I’ve seen and done things I want to forget”), you were left in no doubt that this was a very special record from a very special artist.

Whilst the other records were about love and losing it, being young, getting old, all that usual stuff, there was nothing that could touch this record, lyrically or musically. Whilst I rather like the King Creosote/John Hopkins and Elbow records (James Blake? You’re having a laugh), Let England Shake was so far out in front that any other winner would have had to go up to the podium and just go “You’ve made a mistake” (much like Arctic Monkeys charmingly did – “Someone call the police, Richard Hawley’s just been robbed”).

If you don’t have it already, buy it. Buy it now. GO!

MP3: The Words That Maketh Murder by PJ Harvey

Go And Buy “Let England Shake” NOW

A Woman, A War

A new PJ Harvey needs a certain amount of preparation to listen to. For starters, you’ve got to be in the right mood. After all, it’s not like all her records have been what you would happily call “easy listening”. Plus there’s the subject matter; often about the terrors of the human heart and the dreadful lengths men and women will go to for love, and occasionally about muuuurder and the like. So her new album, Let England Shake, was approached by me with a sense of trepidation. Would we get the nice(ish) Polly of “Stories….”, or the wailing banshee Polly of “Is This Desire?”.

When the album’s subject matter became clear, you might be forgiven for being even more concerned that we’d hear Wailing Banshee Polly in full effect. Lots has been written about the subject matter of much of the album – that of England’s role in the deep trauma of the First World War – yet Let England Shake is Polly’s most listenable record, almost pastoral in its willingness to engage with the listener. You can see Polly sitting in the conservatory of her Dorset home, reading a copy of “The Last Fighting Tommy” with a guitar on her lap, ruminating on what such a horrendous war did to a generation and the generations that followed, looking out at the green fields and woods of the beautiful English countryside.

This is a thoughtful album, written by an artist who knows exactly what she wants to say, knows how to say it, and knows clearly and exactly how to make sure the music matches the message. By and large, the songs are simple – simple percussion, strummed guitar-like lines on an Autoharp, very little that couldn’t be played by an averagely talented band. No sudden bursts of electronica, no strange key or tempo changes, all elegantly produced. Nothing gets in the way of her clear and single-minded vision; few distracting screams or wails of the kind she used to unleash whenever she felt things were getting just too comfortable. This is an older, wiser Polly Jean, and one you’re glad to have around, like an old friend who has got over her crazy days to become a trusted confidante.

And this thoughtful, confident album is a nailed-on, absolute certainty for being one of the best of 2011. A record few artists could produce; stripping down the instrumentation to make the songs approachable, writing lyrics so evocative of hatred and war yet never, ever feeling forced. A wonderful record, the kind that elevates PJ Harvey to a whole new level, that of a full-on, bona fide Artist, with a capital A and everything it brings.

If you’re not convinced, go to the YouTube channel here to listen to all the tracks, in a series of beautiful films by Seamus Murphy. Great for fans and newbies alike.

(Author’s note: apologies for the brevity of this. Frankly I want to write more, but there isn’t the time).

MP3: Written On The Forehead by PJ Harvey

Buy “Let England Shake” (CD/MP3)

PJ And Yorke

Coincidences, eh? Just last night I was listening to PJ Harvey’s duet with uber-miserabalist multimillionaire Thom Yorke1 “This Mess We’re In” and wondering firstly what a great voice she’s got, and secondly wondering when those moany wonders Radiohead will get round to releasing another record2.

And lo! On Valentine’s Day, they’ve only gone and told us that the new record is out Saturday. Saturday! That’s this Saturday! You can do that when you’ve got no record label and gazillions of fans. ‘Tis called The King Of Limbs and it’s available for pre-sale now at the bargain price of £6 for a 320K MP3, with some more expensive options like double 10” vinyl and gubbins for £30. No word yet on what the thing sounds like. Guess you’ll just have to wait.

To keep you going, and also to celebrate PJ Harvey’s new record (which I will really, honestly, truly write about soon, once I’ve listened to it), here’s that lovely song. It’s almost appropriate for Valentine’s Day too, if your idea of romance is a torrid encounter in New York with someone you really shouldn’t be having a torrid encounter with.

1 The saying “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you a better class of misery” springs to mind here.

2 And yes, whether it’d be any good or not. Let’s save that thought.

MP3: This Mess We’re In by PJ Harvey and Thom Yorke

And since we’re on this theme:

MP3: Ever Fallen In Love by The Buzzcocks

Heh. Happy Valentine’s!

Buy “Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea” (CD/MP3)

Yeovilin A Laugh

That is, quite possibly, the most tortured pun I’ve ever tried. And I’ve tried a few. I’m not even going to try and explain. Anyway, this post is a quick one about how rubbish I am at the music blogging lark.

Generally, one of the points of music blogging is having some semblance of being up to date and that. I fail dismally at this. Some PR people, bless their little cotton socks, send me stuff early and I think “Oooh, must listen to that soon”. Then I forget. I’m a forgetful sort.

T’other day I got an email about PJ Harvey’s new album. “Oooh, that’s early, I’ll have a nice leisurely listen then post something”. Two days later, nada. Nuffin. And then The Grauniad and Pitchfork and everyone gets on it and I miss out on getting into it early, and dragging some more people into here, kicking and screaming, to read about me moaning on about Spoon and Arcade Fire and people talking during gigs and how old I am and blahdiblahdiblah.

So anyway, here’s Polly Jean’s new one. New album “Let England Shake” out on February 15, 2011.

I like her.

The end.

MP3: Written On The Forehead by PJ Harvey

Amazon’s PJ Harvey Store