52 albums – week 46

I really wanted to send up the new P J. Harvey album this week, Let England Shake but despite trying my hardest I just couldn’t get inside it.
I was so sure I was going to like it. Not just for the literary bent she brings to her music and the critical acclaim (two Mercury Awards) but the endorsements from fellow musicians as well (Mick Harvey features prominently on the new record, Patti Smith gives it glowing praise) but at the end of the day I just couldn’t connect with it so I saved the pennies and went and bought Laura Marling’s new record instead.

Now this Album I bonded with straight away. It’s her third release (and she’s still only 21) but it feels like she’s stretching out with this recording. Mind you I’d have been just as happy with more of this:

which is what first catapulted her into the public arena.
However I like the breathless east coast feel (almost jazzy at times) that’ worked it’s way into songs like The Muse or Don’t Ask Me Why. There’s the obvious Joni Mitchell reference but I was thinking a little of Michelle Shocked too whilst listening too All My Rage.
Sophia is the song that’s been garnering all the airplay. As with most of her music it has a timeless feel too it which is a good thing as it’s getting so much exposure. To play the pointless who am I reminded of game. There’s a bit of Kate Bush, a bit of Michelle Shocked (again) in this song, but what I really like is the oh so gradual quickening of the tempo. The pace slowly builds, gathering momentum until by the end of the song it’s a joyous, rollicking ride that we’ve accompanied her on:

The Beast is the centerpiece of this Album. It has its own website the-bea.st with a reading of the expanded poem by Gil Landry of OCMS. The song plants itself like a giant brooding spider right at the heart of A Creature I Don’t Know. And what a menacing space it occupies. This is Love after the fact, this is the price extracted, this is what we hide. There are a series of versions up on YouTube, performed live in various Churches around England; Yorkminster, Bristol Cathedral, Westminster etc. But curiosities though they are they don’t really capture all the nuances of the recorded versions. Unfortunately the only Album version i could find online has disappeared so I’ll have to content myself with this live version:

Some of the reviews I’ve read have been almost as focused on the writing for this Album as it’s music. Her lyrics are dense and oblique and there’s a certain coolness and detachment in her words. That’s praise by the way, not criticism; she doesn’t give up her secrets easily. Maybe it is this that people find confronting. She doesn’t willingly slide into that confessional, soul baring singer/songwriter role. Or maybe she upsets the apple cart by refusing to bow her head. Maybe she just doesn’t know her place. I don’t know? It’s interesting that it’s predominately men that feel compelled to comment on perceptions of iciness but I do know that the debate has gone on without much input from Laura, who as it turns out is a refreshingly private person.
Just as a quick closing note I was really struck with the cover art (Shynola Group – a London-based collective of three Artists) which in a funny kind of way mirrored or maybe was a key to her music. Looking at the Album cover with its two inter-coiled figures, fighting or copulating it’s hard to say which.
Initially you see two bodies but after a while you can only see one.

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