8. PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project

“Here’s the highway to death and destruction.

I suspect that this is not a commonly held view, but this is my blog. I’ve put the graft in, so I’m just going to say it – I believe that The Hope Six Demolition Project is P J Harvey’s best album. There, said it.

For me, it’s better than both of Harvey’s Mercury Prize winners, Let England Shake and Stories from the City…

In terms of its style, it carries on from where Let England Shake left off. It’s another gritty reportage, turning over stones and reporting back on the unpleasant things that lie beneath. This time, however, the subject is not war. Instead, it’s the view from a car window as she passes through a series of pretty grim neighbourhoods in Washington DC, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Where The Hope Six Demolition Project differs from Let England Shake is in the music itself. The zithers and autoharps are gone, replaced by pounding tom-toms and swampy, bluesy guitars. The songs are stronger for that. Witness The Ministry of Defence, an absolutely thrilling blues-infected, swamp-rock masterpiece that is, in every way, an assault on the senses.

The Ministry of Social Affairs takes a similar path, yet is even more arresting as it morphs into this extreme form of musical chaos. Of course, it’s not all bludgeon riffola. There are more delicate moments, for example on the smouldering River Anacostia and album closer Dollar, Dollar.

The album’s highlight for me – and surely one of Harvey’s finest songs – comes with The Wheel. It’s a grisly story, ostensibly about children on a fairground ride in Kosovo. They scream with delight, but as the camera pans out it’s revealed that the wheel is revolving next to a building plastered with photos of kids killed in ethnic cleansing. The subject matter is clearly thought provoking. The music is equally impactful. The first minute and twenty-three seconds of this garage band epic consists of the same bars, guitars shrieking and drums pounding. It is hypnotic and serves to take the listener to the same place as the kids on the wheel itself.

In summary, The Hope Six Demolition Project is hard hitting. It pulls no punches and sets out to remind you that this world is not all beaches and rose gardens. But at the same time, it is lyrically beautiful and musically perfect. Not everyone will agree that it’s Polly Jean’s finest, but as I said earlier, I do. And it’s my blog.

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