PJ Harvey creates international tremors with The Hope Six Demolition Project

Hope Six Demolition ProjectThe Hope Six Demolition Project continues in the vein of seminal album Let England Shake, with songs on poverty, war and environmental destruction inspired by travels to Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington DC. PJ Harvey has collaborated with photographer and filmmaker Seamus Murphy and an extensive line-up of musicians to distill sights, stories and images from her travels into an intense set of songs backed with an electrifying blend of folk, rock, gospel and blues. There’s a raw edge that perhaps comes from the sessions being recorded in front of the public and it is apt for the often unsettling nature of the songs.

Harvey has said: “When I’m writing a song, I visualise the entire scene. I can see the colours, I can tell the time of day, I can sense the mood, I can see the light changing, the shadows moving, everything in that picture.” There are certainly some vivid pictures, starting with "Community of Hope’s" stark portrayal of a “drug town... full of zombies” and a “pathway of death”. It is a poetic account of a struggling community with the uplifting chorus offering an optimistic contrast to the grim verses.

As a description of an actual area of  Washington DC, however, it can also be interpreted as a piece of sensationalist journalism or very bad TripAdvisor review set to music. Harvey has said she wants to see the places and meet the people she writes about but the residents of Ward 7 are perhaps justified in saying she hasn't seen enough of them.

Other songs deal with less specific subjects or avoid such flippant statements. On "The Ministry of Defence", Harvey sings of a war torn building covered in Arabic graffiti with a “ghost of a girl that runs and hides,” above menacing blasts of distorted guitars and wailing saxophone. "Chain of Keys" paints an enigmatic portrait of an old woman dressed in black tending 15 derelict properties. We are asked to imagine what her eyes have seen but are told little. “We ask but she won’t let us in,” Harvey and her chorus chant.

In poetry it can be what is left unsaid that is most powerful and much of the album’s impact comes from short lines that capture something bigger. On "Near the memorials of Vietnam and Lincoln", the title is sung like a mantra, growing in power as the song goes on. The phrase "dollar, dollar" is used to similar effect in the melancholy closing song about a boy begging at a car window. This follows "The Wheel", a mighty anthem about children dying. “Hey, little children don’t disappear,” Harvey pleads. “I heard it was 28,000,” comes the response. There is no context to this figure in a song that laments each tragedy being forgotten as the next one comes along.

One feels there is far more to Harvey’s experiences and the issues she touches on but these carefully orchestrated songs hit hard, making The Hope Six Demolition Project a riveting listen from start to finish.

Release: 15th April 2016, Island

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