Creating a war-themed concept album is difficult for many artists to do without reverting to the rhetoric of Vietnam War protesters or reiterating the Smiths' lament, "It's the bomb that will bring us together." If anyone can achieve this feat, it's Polly Jean Harvey.
Though Let England Shake coldly condemns war's destruction of human life, it contains an empathetic warmth that cuts through the vitriol. Harvey's high, lonely vocals in "On Battleship Hill" mourn violence with tenderness. In "England," she fuses Middle Eastern vocal techniques with the British folk-ballad tradition to tell her homeland, "You leave a taste, bitter one." Harvey even explores the autoharp's ability to evoke childhood memories, 1960s folk tunes and Renaissance harpsichord melodies, especially on the title track.
However, it's "The Glorious Land" that dazzles the most, painting a battle scene with powerful lyrics and melody. Black clouds loom on the horizon, the smell of death fills the air, and a palpable gloom seeps from the earth. A rhythmic call-and-response of "What is the glorious fruit of our land? / Its fruit is deformed children" seals the deal. Even if some of the references to English war history are unfamiliar, you're likely to be moved.