PJ Harvey-The Hope Demolition Project
This is Polly Harvey’s first album since 2011’s universally acclaimed ‘Let England Shake’ and whilst sonically it uses the templates of that album and extends them-a jazz tinged saxophone is added to the elements- she also draws on the melodic capacity of ‘Stories From the City , Stories From the Sea’ and the muddy blues swap of ‘To Bring You My Love’ all of which rate as her most successful works both artistically and commercially.
However what the new opus lacks is the cohesion of ‘Let England Shake’, the immediacy of ‘Stories form the City…’ or the slinky sparseness of ‘To Bring You My Love’ and emerges as flawed rather than captivating.
Despite this it does warrant repeated listenings which reveal depths which are not apparent on the first few hearings.
The idea to use a journalistic approach to the lyrics is also a gamble which doesn’t always pay off and as such they often sound clunky and forced. The clumsily titled ‘Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln’ is a clear case in point as it is hardly a title to roll off the tongue and into the memory bank.
The album’s two lead off tracks ‘The Wheel’ and ‘The Community of Hope’ helped to raise expectations and it turns out they are the two strongest works here.
The latter is oddly out of place as the album’s opener as it is storming straightforward rocker which feels like it rushes to a premature conclusion and is all over too soon and feels slightly unfinished and truncated because of this.
The song is already controversial with a Washington Post reporter claiming that Harvey quoted her verbatim as she acted as a tour guide on the less savoury sites of DC although the line ‘The school just looks like a shithole’ will probably resonate in several Edinburgh households at the moment with seventeen schools across the capital being closed due to the PFI debacle.
The second number the T.Rex inflected ‘Ministry of Defence’ would have made a more convincing and dramatic opener with its stop-start riffing and well spaced pauses. ‘A Line in the Sand’ could have slotted into her last work unnoticed but it is still a gorgeous track. Likewise ‘Chain of Keys’ and ‘Medicinals’ have a marching tempo to them which also continue her last album’s themes and more and more it becomes apparent that musically this is one of Harvey’s great works—‘The Orange Monkey’ is hauntingly beautiful’- it is the lyrics which let her down at every juncture never lodging themselves in your brain.
Often it feels more like the outpourings of a self appointed war correspondent and observer than one of our greatest lyricists. Journalism and rock music do not always make comfortable bedfellows as this album makes clear.
The last two tracks however manage to draw the listener back in. The aforementioned single ‘The Wheel’ is given the time to find itself that was denied ‘The Community of Hope’ with handclaps, riffing horns and guitars all conspiring to create a stormer of a song based on Harvey’s observations of children in disappearing on a fairground ride interspersed with her memories of similar children in Kosovo disappearing due to ethnic cleansing.
‘Dollar Dollar’ also takes its time getting to where it wants to get to and is all the better for it and makes a beautiful closer to an unsettling work which despite its best intentions hasn’t quite fulfilled expectations.
‘The Hope Demolition Project’ is ultimately a frustrating experience rather than a satisfying one. On one hand the melodies and musical structure are among Harvey’s best but she has chosen to marry it to lyrical themes which are admirable but dispassionate and therefore ultimately unrewarding. Not Harvey’s best album but still a long way from being her worst.

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