PJ Harvey review protest songs unleash magnetic, righteous drama

The musician brings her Hope Six Demolition Project on tour to rail against social ills, and confirm her status as a forceful commentator

Its more than 20 years since the release of PJ Harveys first masterpiece, To Bring You My Love, and five since her second, Let England Shake. Few major artists have so profoundly changed their themes between such peaks, and almost none of Harveys reach and stature are today attempting what she does: to take on the state of the world.

Perhaps thats ceased to be a job for pop music, which long ago surrendered any claim to influence how we think about the world, and focused on its principal role of being a diversion from it. But that hasnt put Harvey off, nor should it have. Its one hell of a task, mind; one that takes either stupidity or nerve to assign yourself and Harvey is anything but a fool. Where pop as a whole shrugs, she trains a fierce gaze. If Let England Shake was obliquely a protest album one that delved into the past to illuminate the present its contemporary companion piece, and Harveys latest, The Hope Six Demolition Project, is overtly so.

Towering wall of sound PJ Harvey with her band. Photograph: Richard Isaac/Rex/Shutterstock

A set dominated by the new album, and dipping into the last one, confirms two things those records suggested. Firstly, that the oblique is Harveys forte. Secondly, that even her lesser talent for delivering it straight is formidable. Let England Shake was sibylline, as if something both atavistic and prophetic was speaking through Harveys mouth and her music. The Hope Six Demolition Project, not so thick with mystery, gives song form to reportage and editorial. This show turns that reportage into theatre, from the moment the 10-piece band drums itself single-file on to the stage and Harvey steps forward from the brass section, to a final chant descending into silence and darkness.

This is something of a 90s sombre-indie supergroup, including Mick Harvey, James Johnston, Terry Edwards and John Parish, shifting formations like an outfield football team. It produces a towering wall of sound, heavily percussive, as maximalist a noise as Harvey has fronted. Her voice sometimes cuts through the air above it, alone, and at others floats atop a low male chorus. She is at all times magnetic. The newest songs generate a righteous drama that transcends their occasional clunkiness; but its those from Let England Shake and To Bring You My Love, plus a take on 50ft Queenie that transforms its stark rockabilly rage into a hurricane blast, which are pure sorcery.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/oct/31/pj-harvey-review-hope-six-demolition-project-protest