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September 28, 2011

FOO FIGHTERS – IZOD Center, NJ – 26th September 2011


As mentioned in my review of, Foo Fighters latest album, ‘Wasting Light’ back in April (http://scoaustin.blogspot.com/2011/04/album-review-foo-fighters-wasting-light.html), I would not consider myself to be a massive, Foo Fighters fan, but I’m slowly and surely being turned in to one. Don’t get me wrong, I have long appreciated the abilities of this talented bunch, not to mention their longevity in the game, but this was my first experience of the Foos live and the certainly extended my appreciation. This was the first leg of their, ‘Wasting Light’ tour and the impressive, IZOD Center in New Jersey was a more than capable setting for the rock show it was to host on this particular evening. My gig friend and I pre gamed a little too long to see support bands, ‘Mariachi El Bronx’ and, ‘Chicago's Rise Against’, but the baying crowd were suitably warmed up when we got to our seats in almost in tandem with when the Foos took to the stage.

With the excitement at fever pitch, the opening razor sharp chords of ‘Bridge Burning’ were struck in complete darkness before drummer, Hawkins, and guitarists, Shiflett, Smear, Mendel and lead man, Grohl converged to play this fiery introduction.  Grohl headbanged feverishly as a curtain of several screens rose and the strobe lights shimmered before, Grohl shrilled, "These are my famous last WO-O-O-RDS!". The, Foo Fighters had arrived and the touch paper was lit. The first song from, ‘Wasting Light’ was swiftly followed by the second in, ‘Rope’ and the crowd were gripped.

We went back to 2007’s, ‘Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace’ for ‘The Pretender’ which was fantastically delivered by, Grohl and it was clear that he was enjoying this show (when does he never). ‘My Hero’ from, ‘Skin And Bones’ followed with an audience solo on the chorus in which the majority participated – “There goes my hero, watch him as he goes…there goes my hero, he’s ordinary!” Grohl completely controls the crowd in a manner in which a conductor controls his orchestra. He closes out this ballad with an intense jam with drummer and best friend, Taylor Hawkins before a delightful rendition of, ‘Learn to Fly’ and the raucous, ‘White Limo’ from the present day. One of my favourites from the current album, ‘Arlandria’ seemed to soften the mood nicely before the song explodes in to life almost unannounced. ‘Breakdown’ was up next, and from our vantage point, just behind the stage, we had an amazing view of the talents of drummer, Hawkins. He’s as skinny as a garden rake with his spine and rib cage visible through his skin, but he has the energy and immense talents to work through what must be a grueling set for a drummer.

At this point, the classy, Grohl took some time out to give his vocal chords and band members a well earned break. His connection with the audience was both effortless and charming. On a good few occasions, he asked for the house lights to be switched on so he could “see the people”. At one point upon seeing a few of the younger ones in the audience glued to their seats, he mimicked them - "No, no. I understand. It's too tiring to stand up and listen to rock music. Relax! Just relax. Sit down!" and quipped, “lazy ass mo%^3r fcu$3%$ can't stand up for rock concert”. Grohl then went on to introduce the band and share in something of a Taylor-Dave appreciation society before the drummer went on to sing, ‘Cold Day in The Sun’ also from ‘Skin And Bones’.

‘Stacked Actors’ was effectively a 12 minute long jam out comprising a guitar solo fight between, Shiflett and, Grohl that was gripping to say the least (Dave’s stage coming up midway through the battle). Meanwhile, bass player, Mendel was chilling out and puffing on a cigarette alongside the sound technicians. The sensational, ‘Walk’, another of my favourites from the current album, sounded so good live. This band is laden with class and each member looks so comfortable in their role. Quite simply, they know how good they are, they embrace it and they express it in an array of quality songs.

‘Monkeywrench’ from, ‘The Colour and the Shape’ again had the crowd in raptures with Grohl’s delivery and animated fist pumping in the epic category. ‘Let It Die’ kicked in with a dancey, trippy vibe, but it wasn’t long before the rock took over and Grohl was moshing away once more. Prior to going into the soft, sweet and somewhat reflecting, ‘These Days’, Grohl brought out his old, ‘Nirvana’ friend and bassist, Krist Novoselic to play accordion. Needless to say, the fans showed their appreciation at having three former, ‘Nirvana’ band members on stage. I’m a tad surprised that Krist didn’t get an extended welcome to play bass on the following track, ‘I Should Have Known’ as he did on the album. Perhaps he wasn’t comfortable in doing so…he did appear a little timid and overawed by the whole occasion.


Grohl, then introduced the first song from the first, Foo Fighters record, ‘This Is A Call’ which later morphed in to, ‘Pink Floyds’, ‘In The Flesh’. This became something of a rock opera of a tune. Now it was time for the evenings biggest crowd rock moment with the fantastic, ‘All My Life’. That opening guitar riff sending shivers down my spine, it’s no wonder the headbanging commenced and the fists were flying in the air in an energetic mosh pit. “Done, done and on to the next one…” This was certainly a highlight and I simply don’t know how Grohl can pull this energy and vocals off night after night on tour...I think the rafters at IZOD are still vibrating. The band walked of stage, but they were by no mean done with a seven song encore to follow. There was a pretty cool gimmick with, Grohl and, Hawkins appearing in night vision on the big screens apparently bidding for how many songs they would play on the encore. They agreed on six, but played seven. This band love what they are doing and seemed willing to play all night. They certainly have enough songs in their repertoire to achieve that.

‘Long Road To Ruin’, ‘Best of You’ and, ‘Times Like These’ were played solo by, Grohl on an acoustic guitar at the rear stage for the nosebleed seats where, Grohl joked, “you thought you had $h!^*y seats…now you're front row. ‘Best of You’ was sensational and displayed the lead man’s ability to hit the notes on softer songs having just played a fierce set prior. ‘Times Like These’ was preceded by a cute little story by, Grohl - "For the first time in my life I ever pulled up to a Foo Fighters show and people were tailgating. It was the first time I'd ever seen that at a Foo Fighters show. And I was psyched, because it made me feel like 'Oh my God, I've arrived. There's people tailgating at MY rock concert!"  

‘Dear Rosemary’ which I am sure is a tribute to my Auntie, Rosie is another great track from the current album as, Grohl and Co work to take things down a little. We are then treated to an absorbing version of, Tom Petty’s, ‘Breakdown’ before something of a surprise in, ‘Skin & Bones’ from the like titled album and then the standard closer in, ‘Everlong’. Despite it being late on a Monday night, a very small amount of the sellout crowd made their way for the exits and that’s a testament to this phenomenal live act. From the outset, they slated the hour/hour and a half set long performers and promised the audience they would play long. They delivered with a two and a half/three hour set that was a joy to see and hear with the majority of, ‘Wasting Light’ well accompanied by a subtle mix of older tracks from years gone by. Sixteen years of playing live shows to avid fans around the globe does not come easily. This is a band that work hard, consistently deliver sublime results and are reaping the rewards. The music is at the heavier end of my scale, but cast that aside, you must see the, ‘Foo Fighters’ live…it’s that simple. Rating 8.5/10


Set List:
Bridge burning
Rope
The Pretender
My Hero
Learn to Fly
White Limo
Arlandria
Breakout
Cold Day in The Sun
Stacked Actors
Walk
Monkeywrench
Let It Die
These Days
I Should Have Known
This Is A Call (Pink Floyds, ‘In The Flesh’)
All My Life

Encore:
 
Long Road To Ruin
Best of You
Times Like These
Dear Rosemary
Breakdown (Tom Petty)
Skin & Bones
Everlong

September 25, 2011

Album Review: KASABIAN - Velociraptor!


‘Kasabian’ are a band I have been in to for quite some time. Ever since their debut, self titled album in 2004 in fact. The English indie/rock band formed in Leicestershire in 1999 have been around for some time, but with three solid albums as it stands in ‘Kasabian’ (2004), ‘Empire’ (2006) and ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’ (2009), I was excited to listen to number four, ‘Velociraptor!’ and review it here.  

The influence of a band I’ve been listening to a lot recently, ‘The Stone Roses’ can be heard in their first album in particular. The third single, ‘Club Foot’ from their debut release, ‘Kasabian’ elevated the band in terms of success in the UK. From then, they have continued to a cause a buzz in the UK music scene and have an avid following. Indeed, third album, ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’ was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize in 2009 and named 'Best Album' at the Q Awards the same year. The subsequent year, Kasabian won the ‘Best Group’ gong at the Brit Awards as well as the ‘Best Act in the World Today’ title at the Q Awards.

Kasabian started work on their fourth album, Velociraptor!, in November 2010 with Dan the Automator as producer. Written and produced by ,Sergio Pizzorno, the 11 track album is strewn the anthemic indie rock for which the band have become renowned. It’s clear to define the influences on this one. Think, ‘Chemical Brothers’ and ‘Primal Scream’ of the modern era and ‘Led Zeppelin’ and ‘The Beatles’ of days gone by.

‘Let's Roll Just Like We Used To’ starts with a garbled noise that sounds similar to the intro to MJ’s, ‘Smooth Criminal’ before a trumpet solo kicks in and a movie soundtrack like theme commences. It’s a Middle Eastern mantra that transforms in to a dizzying dance beat takes the fore. It’s a vintage ’60s sound which immediately casts up, Alex Turner and his, ‘Last Shadow Puppets’…it’s a 007 theme tune on ecstasy. ‘Days Are Forgotten’ continues with a drum and bass beat synonymous with some of the previous three albums from the band. The chorus is catchy as hell and combined with a dirty blues riff throughout, my toes are tapping the floor and my head is nodding approval. One of my favourite tracks on the album for sure…this is the Kasabian sound that I love.  For sheer catchiness, it’s only competing with the albums’ title track.

‘Goodbye Kiss’ is one of the more ballads sound of the, ‘Kasabian’ arsenal of tunes and I think it works well for them. It’s a romantic serenade and a solid track in which lead vocalist, Tom Meighan woos us with his wistful lyrics. Perhaps this is one for the more mature, ‘Kasabian’ fans (like myself). ‘La Fée Verte’ is very, ‘Beatles’ in sound and even references, ‘Lucy in the Sky of Diamonds’. This fits in somewhere between, ‘Sergeant Pepper’ and ‘Octopus’s Garden’ - “How does it feel, to live your life when nothing is real, so just send me down the river".

Title track, ‘Velociraptor!’ is most definitely a continuation of where previous album, ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’ left off. It’s abundance of energy, crashing drum beat and rapid guitar riffs make for a fast and furious track with decent, but not amazing lyrics layered on top. It’s somewhat psychedelic, but at the same time, very rock ‘n’ roll. In essence, it sounds like a musical of a really good night out. Following the mayhem that proceeded, we are offered, ‘Acid Turkish Bath’ which is certainly one of the slower songs on the album. More Eastern influences on this one. The heavy guitar on the chorus sounds like ‘Led Zeppelin’ and there are elements of this track where lead man, Meighan morphs in to, Plant. I want to like this song, but it’s not one of the stronger offerings.

‘Hear Voices’ begins with a buzzing synth before a more composed, ‘Kraftwerk’ like keyboard fills in the rest of the track. Again, this is a decent track, but by no means outstanding. Following my slight disappointment of the prior tune, ‘Re-wired’ is a song that definitely reintroduces us to the the, ‘Kasabian’ of yesteryear. It’s big, it’s grungy, it’s rocking and the lyrical delivery is superb. The chorus is the kick up the arse one needs and could well make my Monday morning playlist – “Hit me harder, I’m gettin’ re-wired”.

‘Man of Simple Pleasures’ starts with something of western strings and has me picturing, Clint Eastwood with his Stetson in hand against a red sand, desert setting. This is again ballad in nature. A smooth, wellc comprised, easy listening track. ‘Switchblade Smiles ‘ is proper, ‘Kasabian’. This track is a journey and a half with outstanding bass, heavy guitar riff, tribal vocals and electro-phased beats merging in to a sound of controlled frenzy – “you feel it coming”. The closer, ‘Neon Noon’ kills the chaos and frantic noise of, ‘Switchblade Smiles’ with more of a slow burner to close out. This is very trippy and again, in the, ‘John Lennon’ and ‘Beatles’ mould. It’s something of a divergence from the rest of the album, but bands do that in closers from time to time. I would have preferred them to finish with the raucous sound for which I enjoy them, but as I said before, this band has the ability and desire to change up their sound.

Guitarist, Pizzorno claimed - "It’s been 15 or 16 years since the last truly classic album, but I think we’ve done it." This is the kind of bold and brash attitude that goes along with the band and makes focusing on their music and not their persona the only way to like them. ‘Rolling Stone’ praised the creativity and versatility of the album, calling it Kasabian's greatest album and stating there is a big future ahead of the English band. For me, it’s a solid sounding album, but by no means a “classic”. In fact, following just a couple of listens of the oddly named, ‘Velociraptor!’ I can safely say I prefer most of their previous albums (this may well change with further listens…Kasabain’s music has all the attributes of a ‘grower’). It will be intriguing to watch how far this talented group go with their abundance of talent and sounds. Rating: 7/10

September 21, 2011

Album Review: THE RAPTURE - In The Grace of Your Love



The dance/punk band based in New York City that is, ‘The Rapture’ is a band which mixes many genres from post-punk, disco, and electronica to rock and acid house. Formed in 1998 by keyboardist, Relyea, drummer, Roccoforte and guitarist/vocalist, Jenner, the band released their debut album, ‘Mirror’. Following a year and a half long search, they were eventually joined by bassist, Safer. ‘The Rapture’ were soon deemed forerunners in the post-punk revival of 2000 mixing their early post-punk sound with electronic and dance elements through their collaboration with the highly regarded production team DFA also from New York City. Andruzzi later joined the band in 2002 and their second record, ‘Echoes’, was released to wide critical acclaim in 2003.

The Rapture released their third album, ‘Pieces of the People We Love’ on Universal Motown Records in September 2006 with Danger Mouse among others producing the album. In the summer of 2009, ‘The Rapture’ announced that bassist Matt Safer decided to leave the band. Since then, the band have been working on their fourth album in Paris and Brooklyn with Phoenix producer and, ‘Cassius’ member, Philippe Zdar producing the album. ‘In the Grace of Your Love’ is ‘The Rapture's’ first album since 2006's, is also the first release without former bassist, Safer. The album was released in early September, 2011 and marks their return to DFA Records after leaving Universal Music Group. Notably, the album cover features a picture of band member, Luke Jenner's father.

A lot has happened in the past five years with lead man, Jenner fathering his first born two months prior to grieving the suicide of his mother - "I didn't really have any time to process it. We were in a tunnel, touring all over the world for a couple years. I didn't know how to be a father, and I didn't know how to come to terms with my mother actually successfully committing suicide. That kind of blew me out of the water." Lyrically, songs clearly focus on Jenner's mourning for his mother in ‘Miss You’ and ‘Children’ as well as dealing with fatherhood in ‘Sail Away’ and ‘It Takes Time to Be a Man’. Gospel music has also been cited as a source of inspiration for the band in recording.

‘Sail Away’ starts the album with high pitched wailing and is a lively and interesting introduction to the band for a ‘Rapture’ laymen like I. Yes, I have heard of the band, but I haven’t really listened to them that intently and I this is a positive start. A little bit U2, perhaps a bit more invigorating in some aspects. The Phoenix influence is clear from the outset and I do like Phoenix. ‘Miss You’ sets in with an deep bass line and finger snapping clicks. Having heard the album once through already, I couldn’t quite put my finger on the vocals…they are very similar in sound to those of Cold War Kids frontman, Nathan Willett. This has a groovy sound to it but a deep message in which it seems Jenner fights to reconcile with his late mother.

In ‘Blue Bird’, Jenner displays more hollering and hooting in a track which encompasses so many sounds, it’s hard to put my finger on. I think they cover several genres in this track alone. The theme is persistent on the album with “I’ll see you on the other side” prevalent on this track. It’s a decent tune. ‘Come Back to Me’ mixes things up further with a Gaelic feel to it with accordion taking centre stage accompanied by somewhat gospel lyrics by the charismatic front man and an almost tribal drumbeat.  “Aren’t we all children” are the haunting lyrics on this track.

On title track, ‘In the Grace of Your Love’, electronica comes to the fore before a wild sax combines well with the beat and vocals. This one has a trippy feel to it. ‘Never Gonna Die Again’ is deep in content with pleas for positive and healthy relationships. The lyrics are a little empty and contrived on this track in my opinion. This is perhaps the weakest on the album. Screeching guitars are the intro on, ‘Roller Coaster’ which is somewhat fitting. This one is of the pop nature and talks to the ups and downs in life. ‘Children’ follows this with a similar start in reference to the guitar, but a far more compulsive tune with a likeable hook. The guitar riff that continues throughout is one that has me tapping my toes and nodding my head to the rhythm.


‘Can You Find a Way?’ is a return to the dance themes of yesteryear for, ‘The Rapture’. It’s fast and furious, but fun and enjoyable. ‘How Deep Is Your Love?’ again has me harking back to, Cold War Kids. It’s a vibrant, piano laden tune with dance undertones. The rolling keys match Jenners emotional delivery.  ‘It Takes Time to Be a Man’ is a very soulful closer. It has me picturing the end of the night in the jazz club with a semi drunk soul singer playing out his last tune on the piano. The sax hums and snarls during his shrills of “hallelujah” and I like the beat on this track and it’s an apt closer to a diverse and enjoyable fourth album from, ‘The Rapture’.

‘In the Grace of Your Love’ is more complex than the bands previous efforts with the addition of needlework guitar, saxophone and the likes. It is very much a seven seasons in one day type album with an abundance of variety. The band has certainly channeled what was once an erratic ball of raw energy has evolved and matured in to something with a focus, pace and sound. There’s U2, Talking Heads, Cut Copy and even a little bit of Phoenix on this album. This album is home to some deep feeling and emotions and is effectively about sustained love and forgiveness. It's something of a homecoming or as bass player, Andruzzi puts it, "It's our soul record." Rating 7/10

September 14, 2011

Album Review: LIL WAYNE - Tha Carter IV



I have been intrigued by tattoo clad, Dwayne Michael Carter’s (aka. Lil Wayne) music for quite some time and a recent performance on MTV’s VMA’s coerced me in to action. From the sweet, guitar laden little love song that is ‘How to Love’, Lil Wayne transformed in to a mad man on, ‘John’ I was captivated. The following day, I was trawling the internet to listen to his most recent release, ‘Tha Carter IV’. Although I have heard a lot of Lil Wayne’s music over the years, I have not sat down and took note as much as I have with the likes of 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Kanye West and the likes. I am still to complete listening to Lil Wayne’s back catalogue, but have seen, read and heard enough to want to spend the time and effort to do so.

A brief history of Lil Wayne before we dig in to the album review: At just nine years young, Lil Wayne joined, ‘Cash Money Records’ and became the youngest member of the label as well as half of the duo, The B.G.'z. Six years later in 1997, Lil Wayne joined, ‘Hot Boys’ where Lil Wayne gained most of his success with their big album, ‘Guerrilla Warfare’ 1999. In the same year, Lil Wayne released his platinum selling debut album, ‘Tha Block Is Hot’, selling over one million copies in the U.S. Wayne’s following two albums, ‘Lights Out’ 2000 and, ‘500 Degreez’ in 2002 were not nearly as successful, but he soon attained enhanced popularity with, ‘Tha Carter’. Another string to his bow this year was the appearance on, ‘Destiny's Child’ worldwide hit single, ‘Soldier’. In 2005, 
‘Tha Carter II’ dropped and in the two subsequent years, Lil Wayne released a number of  mixtapes and appeared on various successful rap and R&B singles.

‘Tha Carter III’, Wayne’s most successful album to date was out in 2008 and hosted songs such as, ‘Lollipop’. This also attained a Grammy award for best rap album. A diversion was then taken in the release of his debut rock album, ‘Rebirth’ in 2010 which generally received a cold reception from critics. In early 2010, Lil Wayne began serving an 8 month prison sentence at Rikers Island in New York having being convicted of criminal possession of a weapon three years prior. ‘I Am Not a Human Being’ was released from prison and featured fellow record label artists like, Drake and, Nicki Minaj. This, his ninth studio album, ‘Tha Charter IV was eventually released on August 29th following numerous delays and perhaps thanks to a massive leak onto the Internet.

‘Intro’ is a great start to the album. The beat and rhythm is one that I really appreciate…not dissimilar in many respects to another hip hop favourite of mine, 50 Cent. It’s difficult for me to talk to lyrics as hard hitting and harsh as these, but lyrics like “Life is a crazy bitch, Grace Jones” and “Here no evil, see no evil, Penn and Teller” work for me. ‘Blunt Blowin’ that follows is a fairly dramatic synth and theme to it…the chorus is as catchy hell, but the tune that accompanies is like something I played on keyboard at six years old.

‘MegaMan’ has a crazy beat to it that never subsides. This leads to a three minute long spit/rant by, Wayne. This is Weezy at his best. Despite the tune not being great, Wayne displays what he does best. He’s second to Eminem in this department as far as I’m concerned. Creepy synths resemble a murder movie theme and Wayne rips through one ferocious verse after another. Despite being released several months back, ’6 Foot 7 Foot’ is one of the albums strongest tracks. With, Cory Gunz accompanying with some great raps, the beat is fantastic. Again, Lil Wayne rants and raves as only he can.

Kicking off with a piano riff that would be more expected of, John Legend or, Alicia Keys, ‘Nightmares of the Bottom’ is easy listening, but in the weaker category as far as this album is concerned. It’s autobiographical in many senses - “It’s like I have it all, but I don’t have to worry. Married to the money, a true love story. Only God can judge me, I don’t need a jury. Nothin’ is standing in my way, like nothing is my security.”


‘She Will’ features fellow, Young Money artist, Drake and is one of the strongest tracks on the album that displays, Wayne’s more sensitive side. The beat is cracking, the lyrics are powerful. Not to mention the lyrical deliver which emphasizes that Weezy is more than just a shouter and bawler.  ‘How to Hate’ is a collaboration with his good friend, ‘T-Pain’ in this auto-tune-tastic rap ballad. This is chill out tune with some pretty bitter and strong lyrics. The auto tune cripples it for me.

‘Interlude’ gets is back on track pretty promptly. With, Tech N9ne and, André 3000 represented on this song, it’s a recipe for success. These top artists fire off some crazy raps on this. ‘John’ featuring, Rick Ross was the second song performed on the MTV VMA’s. It’s laden with aggression and angst. A catchy song in the background, but constant mentions of various weaponry grinds on me a little…it’s decent at best. ‘Abortion’ kicks off with, Wayne seemingly morphing in to Prince for the intro. It’s an oddly named track given it has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of abortion. Some quirky and likeable lyrics.

‘So Special’ is a ballady little number featuring crooner, John Legend who I have never really been that fond of. In not such a charming manner, Wanye basically boasts about his sexual prowess in the bedroom and has, Legend in the background to provide the soulful hook for the ladies. ‘How to Love’ that follows is the track that really took me by surprise when, Lil Wayne performed this at the MTV VMA’s. He came out smiling with his definitive grill and waltzing down the stage with a gentleness and sensitivity that I didn’t expect of this rough cut rapper. The lyrics matched his tenderness in his delivery. This acoustic driven ballad is a little sappy, but I like it.

‘President Carter’ is a solid track, with plucking guitars, traumatic keyboards and a hypnotizing beat accompanying some wonderful lyrics, this a great song home to a couple of memorable one liners. It’s a really good mix on this track. In ‘It’s Good’ takes a shot at, Jay-Z and Beyoncé in true rapper fashion. This is a great sound somewhat soured by an unnecessary jibe at the rap mogul. The 

‘Outro’ is probably the biggest track on the album. With a rap posse as phenomenal as this one (Bun, Nas, Shyne and Busta Rhymes), it’s difficult for this not to succeed. Busta Rhymes has to have the most unique vocals in the game.
 
Overall, ‘Tha Carter IV’ is a good album with several tracks in the noteworthy category. Lil Wayne flipped hip hop and pop upside down on, ‘Tha Carter III’. It's been a tumultuous three years since then, but Lil Wayne's retains his status as the world's greatest living rapper. There’s a fair amount of variation with, ‘Blunt Blowin’ and ‘6 Foot 7 Foot’ high in intensity as, Wayne still fires off some of his best lyrics to date. It’s quite the opposite in, ‘Nightmares of the Bottom’ where, Wayne opens up to some of his more intimate fears. The highlights here range from anti war rant, ‘President Carter’ to the Rick Ross duet, ‘John’ – “If I die today, remember me like John Lennon.” Difficult for me to compare against previous Lil Wayne releases, but I have played, ‘Tha Carter IV’ to death over the past two weeks. Rating 7.5/10

September 12, 2011

Album Review: PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

On this, a poignant date on the calendar (I starting keying this review yesterday), particularly in New York from where I type, it's somewhat fitting that I review an album which drew upon the horrors of 9/11/01 as a catalyst for its recording. This albums theme goes deep under the scab of war and represents the much larger picture. The subject matter ranges from the lack of leadership and ulterior motives of war to the non existence of accountability. ‘Let England Shake’ is an album that delves deep in to the murkiness of war as well as its continual appearance throughout England’s past, present and future. 

When, Polly Jean Harvey burst on to the scene and very much in to public consciousness in the early 1990s, her distinct, gritty voice mixed with disturbing lyrics provided the alternative rock world with something a little different . Harvey’s early work is still among the most raw guitar music from that era, but, as she frequently promises, she won't repeat herself and has delivered on that promise on ‘Let England Shake’.

Title track, ‘Let England Shake’ has xylophone as an introduction before the haunting vocals set the scene - “The West’s asleep, let England shake”, Harvey sings in an unnerving tone similar to that of a horror movie presenter. The very first line of this album paves the way for the singer to spend the remainder of the recording shaming, horrifying and rousing it into action. The blend of keys, drums, soft guitar and the impressive vocals show promise for the remainder. ‘The Last Living Rose’ has a  more subtle tone and feel beginning with a tribal kind of drum beat and bluesy guitar riff. The music sounds somewhat tranquil, foggy and ambiguous, which perhaps represent the English singers outlook of her homeland - "Damp grey filthiness of ages, fog rolling down behind the mountains and on the graveyards and dead sea captains" she sings on this radio rock sound that is, ‘The Last Living Rose’.

‘The Glorious Land’ opens and continues with an incessant military like trumpet sound deliberately and purposely out of time and tune with the rest of the song. Is it a call for the cavalry? - "How is a glorious country bestowed?" This track has a liveliness, hosts a great jingle and again, the lyrics are immense. 'The Words That Maketh Murder' is embedded in distorted electric piano and a folky drum beat and sound. Harvey details, 'The Words That Maketh Murder's' battlefield with bold honesty - "I've seen soldier fall like lumps of meat...arms and legs were in the trees" and begs the question - "What if I take my problem to the United Nations?" (from 'Summertime Blues') perhaps jabbing fun at an often futile organisation.

'All And Everyone' settles things down a little and for me, this is the first time in the album I am thinking of Scandinavian singer, Bjork. It's a well placed song in terms of drawing back from the aggression and dark subject matter that we've heard to date. 'On Battleship Hill' establishes a familair sound that's rich and extremely varied. This, to a large part, due to long time collaborators John Parish, Mick Harvey and producer, Flood. This track meanders along, before breaking into ear-piercing, harmonising falsetto. The percussion on this one worthy of special mention as it accompanies Harvey's - "Cruel nature has won again".

'England' is a wonderful acoustic effort that again has me harking back to, Bjork from the very beginning of the track. The song itself continues with a dark, dank and depressed view of the world in general and more so, the despair that her homeland has followed suit. It unearths a sad evolution of what the country she loves so dear has become. 'In The Dark Places' has a sound to it that sounds oh so familiar, but I can't quite put my finger on it. The riff reminds me of some indie track on my play list. This has a softer tone, but a harsh and serious sentiment resonates as she describes our young going to war.




'Bitter Branches' changes the mood again with a faster, more rousing folk-rock sound and hollering vocals from, Harvey as she speaks of soldiers at war in foreign lands. Crashing drums and fast paced guitars describe the confusion and chaos of the situation. From here, we fall upon the most delicate sound and song on the album, 'Hanging In The Wire'. Not my favourite on the album, but again the keys and vocals combine to good effect.

'Written On The Forehead' is probably the most interesting song on, 'Let England Shake' as Harvey introduces the sample of reggae singer, 'Niney The Observer’s' ‘Blood And Fire’. The concept is not in tandem with the rest of the album, but when the sample is used, it rings out to great effect. The mood this juxtaposition creates is odd, but the beautiful melody well placed lyics describing people trying to escape rioting city. 'The Colour of The Earth' ends the album with a sultry sound talking of a mystical figure, Louis. The jingle of tambourine and soft lyrics combine to describe blood drenched battlefields.


The fact that PJ Harvey once more reigned at the recent annual Mercury Music Prize where a panel of music aficionados judged, ‘Let England Shake’ album of the year is no surprise. PJ Harvey’s fantastic, highly esteemed wartime concept album deservedly took the plaudits. In doing so, Harvey is the first to win the Mercury Prize twice. Her first win came on 11 September 2001, when instead of collecting her award she "watched the Pentagon burn" from her hotel room in Washington DC. This time around, she got to enjoy the occasion where she acknowledged that the events and impact of 9/11 had informed this album.

It’s an album which provides a dozen tracks of scornful criticism, heartbreaking loss and bleak resignation. It’s tragic and yet it’s beautiful. Almost two decades after Harvey’s stubborn debut, ‘Dry’ where she introduced her dissatisfied howls, ‘Let England Shake’ is potentially her best album yet. Over the past twenty years, Harvey has certainly been one of Britain’s most consistently talented songwriters with her work plentiful in terms of darkness and violence. She recently remarked, "My biggest fear would be to replicate something I've done before." Not the case here. ‘Let England Shake’ channels the best of PJ Harvey and results in a bone chillingly haunting, phenomenal album that exudes a songwriter/vocalist at the peak of her powers. Rating 8.5/10