PJ Harvey gets unapologetically political with ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’

PJ Harvey performs at Coachella, April 17, 2011. Juan Bendana via Flickr

PJ Harvey has been quietly releasing some of the music industry’s bravest and most innovative albums over the past 20 years. Quiet is relative in this case, as critics laud each of her albums. Yet, compared to her 90s counterparts Radiohead and Björk, she is more or less ignored by the public. Perhaps it is because of Harvey’s relationship with fame; after her magnum opus “Let England Shake” (2011), which made her the first person ever to win the Mercury Price twice, Harvey avoided the press by traveling the world. The trip ended up being very beneficial to Harvey creatively as she released a poetry book and an album inspired by it. Released on April 15, “ The Hope Six Demolition Project” is exactly what Harvey fans expect: it is loud, political and a breath of fresh air for the derivative alternative rock scene. “The Hope Six Demolition Project” is not as groundbreaking as “Let England Shake,” but it still teaches other indie artists a lesson.

There are two aspects of the album that are intriguing: its political lyrics and its recording process. Instead of recording the album in a studio, PJ Harvey brought studio equipment to London’s Somerset House and recorded the album in public. Fans were able to witness the whole process of creating an album, which undoubtedly changes the ways in which the audience engages with the music. It is an earnest way to create music, and it fits the album’s straightforward tone.

“The Hope Six Demolition Project” opens with the controversial “Community of Hope,” which is about the deplorable condition of HOPE VI projects in the United States. Smartly juxtaposed with a jovial tune, lyrics such as “Here’s the highway to death and destruction/ South Capitol is its name/ and the school that looks like a shit-hole / does that look like a nice place?” and “They’re gonna put a Walmart here” condemn the inefficiency of the HOPE VI project in the sharpest terms. Harvey does not shy away from telling things as they are and this alone makes her music stand out. Many politicians have criticized “Community of Hope” for misrepresenting the Hope IV project, but one cannot really argue with what Harvey sees. Harvey writes about her observations, and her authenticity is admirable.

PJ Harvey’s trip around the war included Afghanistan. “The Ministry of Defence” describes the state of Afghan cities during the continuing NATO and American war in Afghanistan, while “A Line In The Sand” criticizes human violence. In “A Line In The Sand,” Harvey chants, “I used to think progress was made/ we could get something right.” The overall tone of “The Hope Six Demolition Project” paints the exact opposite picture; it unabashedly depicts the horrible condition of the world.

In terms of music, “The Hope Six Demolition Project” is very Harvey-like. Inspired by folk and rock music, the majority of the songs feature an electric guitar and Harvey’s haunting voice. The almost psychedelic “Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln” and pop “The Orange Monkey” are refreshing surprises. Yet “The Hope Six Demolition Project” is not really a step forward for Harvey musically; it is the politically brazen lyrics that really stand out.

While “The Hope Six Demolition Project” successfully presents the horrors of war, there is something essentially problematic about the album. PJ Harvey is an English artist distant from all these horrors, which makes it wrongful for her to be the voice for these issues. In “Chain of Keys,” Harvey sings about an elderly lady from Kosovo and at some point wonders “what her eyes have seen.” “The Hope Six Demolition Project” would have a stronger message if it somehow included the woman’s standpoint to the album, but fails to engage with that limit in a productive way.


Political lyrics standout in indie favorite PJ Harvey's new album "The Hope Six Demolition Project."

4 stars