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PJ Harvey - Let England Shake - Demos Music Album Reviews

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake - Demos Music Album Reviews
The UK musician offers a revealing look at the making of her acclaimed 2011 album Let England Shake—just the latest in a growing series of behind-the-scenes demo collections.

In 2015, Londoners were invited to watch PJ Harvey at work on her ninth studio album, The Hope Six Demolition Project. Artist and band took up residence in a studio in the city’s historic Somerset House that was open to the public in 45-minute slots. The reaction to this experiment was a mixture of fascination and frustration: Some audiences caught the band in full inspirational flight; others witnessed 45 minutes of drum tinkering. Seven years on, PJ Harvey continues to pull back the curtain on the recording process: Let England Shake - Demos is the seventh in a series of demo albums accompanying the vinyl reissues of her work, mixing artistic revelation with superfluity in a way that would resonate with Harvey’s Somerset House audience.

Harvey has a long history of fleshing out her official releases with supplementary materials. In 1993, she followed Rid of Me with the incendiary 4-Track Demos just five months later. Many of the recent collections feel less than essential, except perhaps to superfans; Harvey tends not to tinker too much with the structure of her songs during the recording process, which means the listener is left with what are often, essentially, crudely recorded versions of already familiar songs. But Let England Shake - Demos is by far the most enlightening of the bunch. Like an uneven block of stone, it allows us to witness how she chipped away at the album’s singular shape, abandoning ideas that might have lessened the songs’ impact.

Let England Shake, PJ Harvey’s eighth studio LP, is one of her strongest and most experimental works, thanks in part to her clever use of sampling to support her songwriting—like a two-line extract from Niney the Observer’s incandescent reggae classic “Blood and Fire” that winds around “Written on the Forehead” like a scaffold, its stiff reinforcement vital to the song’s emotional load. At the time, Harvey said that lines from songs she was listening to would somehow work their way into her music. But Let England Shake - Demos shows that these lines could also work their way out. The album’s title track initially featured a sample from Canadian vocal quartet the Four Lads’ “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” which Harvey scrapped after realizing it was “drawing the song back rather than letting it become its own living entity.” Listening to the demo version, this was undoubtedly the right decision: The Four Lads’ overly cheery melody clouds out the pitiless blue-sky clarity of the song’s studio take.

Similarly, the demo version of “Bitter Branches” is shot through with a crackling, wobbling siren sound, like an alien invasion witnessed through a 1930s radio, that gums up the song’s gears. If you listen to the two “Bitter Branches” side by side, expunging this effect seems like an obvious decision. At the time, it was probably anything but, just one among thousands of agonizing individual choices an artist confronts when making a record. These nuances suggest that Let England Shake - Demos is a record destined primarily for PJ Harvey obsessives and audio freaks keen to pore over subtle tweaks in songwriting and production. “Hanging In The Wire - Demo,” for example, reveals that the protagonist of the song was originally called “Davy,” while on “The Glorious Land - Demo,” Harvey experiments with an oddly warbling accent that gets toned down considerably in the album version.

Yet there are a handful of early takes that rival (and perhaps even eclipse) the polished Let England Shake studio creations. “The Words That Maketh Murder - Demo” features a generous sample of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” that is reduced to a brief interpolation in the song’s studio version; the clip’s carefree rock swing adds a moment of shocking levity to this most intensely overwrought of albums. Elsewhere, the scratchy guitar of “The Last Living Rose - Demo” bares its teeth in a way that sits well with the song’s exhausted contemplation of England, while the distorted, stripped-back air of “In the Dark Places - Demo” allows Harvey’s savage vocal to hit even harder, a gaping laceration to the studio version’s sutured wound.

Let England Shake - Demos may be a supporting act, feeding off the original LP’s emotional spark like suckerfishes on a shark. But as an insight into the creative process of one of England’s greatest musicians, the record has shades of The Beatles: Get Back: It depicts artistry as not merely a lightning bolt of inspiration, but the sum total of the innumerable choices, bold and mundane alike, that surround it.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
PJ Harvey - Let England Shake - Demos Music Album Reviews PJ Harvey - Let England Shake - Demos Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Saturday, February 05, 2022 Rating: 5

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