Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 15/4
The Hope Six Demolition Project
Written by: MIN on 16/03/2017 13:09:49
After having seen the majesty of a PJ Harvey show twice last year, it’d be foolish not to write a review of her latest full-length outing, “The Hope Six Demolition Project”. The title itself derives from the American government’s project of the same name, which, in short, is about tearing down the homes of low-income families and building new, more expensive buildings in their place — a plan that’s bound to throw many people on the street as they can’t afford the higher prices. Obviously, the project has met much resistance from many people, including Polly Jean Harvey. However, that’s only one aspect of the record; besides that, Harvey has travelled around the world and seen its misery and injustice. Poverty, death, despair and other dreadful topics permeate the album more than anything else — “HOPE VI” is just one of the problems she highlights on her ninth studio album.
The lyrical topics are accompanied by Harvey’s huge band that busts out everything from steel guitars and marching drums to whistles and saxophones. “Chain of Keys” sees the marching drums co-create huge walls of sound with the brass ensemble, “River Anacostia” gathers deep and dark male choirs and album highlight “The Wheel” sees the band excel in a full-on guitar-rager. John Parish — PJ’s long-time collaborator and musical adventurer — and Harvey herself masterfully guide the band in multiple different directions while still maintaining a red thread and unique sound.
The record’s ultimate catharsis arrives in the warning sound of “The Ministry of Social Affairs”, in which Polly takes a swing at the state’s wealthiest people. The first part of the song makes you feel like doomsday is approaching, with the steady beat of marching drums that suddenly get joined by a melodic saxophone as PJ herself raises the volume of her beautiful voice. During the middle of the song and all the way through, a choir solemnly sings while Harvey’s abrasive and impeccable saxophone solo melts your face off. It’s almost as if she wants you to feel guilty (she probably does) and besides being a key element in the song, it also cements her incredible worth as a musician.
However, the record doesn’t always surge past the edge, energy and honesty that some of the songs promise. Whereas tracks like “Medicinals” and “The Ministry of Defense” excellently mix description and subtlety, the messages of other songs feel too forced and are practically shoved down your throat. “Dollar, Dollar” is probably the worst example of this:
The boy stares through the glass // He’s saying dollar dollar // Three lines of traffic past // We’re trapped inside our car // His voice says dollar dollar // I turn to you to ask // For something we could offer […]
But we’re not done yet. Because while this is going on, a choir in the back repeatedly sings ”dollaaar” every fourth second. I’m sorry, but it’s just too much — I think we got the message by now. Luckily, after the awful choir stops and there’s no singing left, Terry Edwards takes the spotlight and delivers a gorgeous saxophone solo to ease your mind. Well, that is right until you notice the sound of cars and children in the back of the mix, judging you once more.
While I personally think we could’ve been spared some of the details and still gotten the whole picture, Harvey manages to convey and address several important issues around the world. On a positive note, the overly expressed lyricism might even make the more ignorant listeners open their eyes — you could almost call it a political outcry for the masses, which is sorely needed today. Mix this with the well-produced and -delivered music throughout, and you just might have PJ Harvey’s most approachable delivery to date. Outside of the lyrical content, “The Hope Six Demolition Project” might not have quite the teeth and edges that some of Harvey’s earlier material has, but it’s so masterfully executed that it’s hard not to be impressed by this massive band.
Download: The Ministry of Defense, The Ministry of Social Affairs, The Wheel
For the fans of: Nick Cave, Patti Smith, Tori Amos
Release date 15.04.2016
Island Records, Vagrant Records