Imagine what her eyes have seen, We ask that she won't let us in – Chain of Keys
PJ Harvey has always written lyrics that hit me hard in the gut, words that are not only meaningful, but meaningful to YOU, striking you at the core. The Hope Six Demolition Project is no exception to the rest - each song has a poignant message, sometimes angry, sometimes tired and always descriptive, so descriptive that you can easily imagine the scene. These days every window into the outside world is full of rapidly passing images of death, destruction and poverty. So many images colliding together that we are at risk of becoming completely desensitized, and many of us already are. From the comforts of our own lives these images remain images, someone else's reality. Polly Jean takes this album to talk about real issues. Issues that exist both near and far, issues that we love to try to bury under other images which are then buried under sand and walked over. You need to listen to each song, let the melodies wash over you and the words penetrate your mind. Those images she describes won’t leave you alone.
This is PJ Harvey’s ninth studio album and is entirely based on her trips to Afghanistan, Kosovo and Washington DC (see what I mean when I say both "there" and on our doorsteps?). She often lets her vocals take the background in the songs on this record, letting her voice blend into the melodies, letting others provide their voices to the cause, and just when you think she is digging herself in too deep she pops right back up again with a cry or a deep yearning plea.
People have judged the album, some going so far as to call it "poverty tourism"... But I don't see her getting a thrill out of visiting or writing about areas of poverty or war, I’m sure she's probably making money off of the album, as she most likely does off every album she releases, but that’s beside the point here. I see it more as a way to raise a different kind of awareness. If an artist can't talk about his or her experiences, about the world as he or she sees it, then what are they supposed to talk about? Does everything have to remain PC at all times nowadays? I get that it appears as if Polly Jean is slightly reluctant to actually really say what she feels as the lyrics come across as her describing what she sees and what she's told (maybe this is why the poverty tourism comments?), but doesn't seem to go as far as to say what her feelings are). Up to us to decide? Most probably. How can you really describe life in a place that you have no knowledge of anyway? In my opinion it’s as if she is describing a scene and telling us to think about it. Use our brains so to speak.
I gather that the people of Anacostia took offense to the lyrics of The Community of Hope, and I may have too if I lived there, and that is their right. But I'm not going to take offense to it because I understand what she seems to be trying to do with this album. Look at the bigger picture and see what is happening right in front of you.
The way this album was created was pretty original, recorded in front of spectators, with a dividing glass between them. Live, but not really live? I would have loved to have seen the recording. I would have loved to ask her questions she would most likely have not answered seeing as I haven't been able to find one recent interview with her, so I suppose she hasn’t been interested in answering any of the speculation over this album. She's never really been one to explain her intentions anyway, always just lets her music talk for her. So I suppose that's why people are forming their own (sometimes possibly misguided) judgments. In any case, I find The Hope Six Demolition Project to be an excellent body of work, and a great transition from 2011's Let England Shake (which was also completely motivated by actual people, places and occurrences).
In any case, the album portrays a certain dissonance and discordance that I absolutely adore, each song completely different from the other, no seamless transitions, jumps from droning vocals, happy humming, aching melodies and harmonies, larger than life back-up singers, hollow sounds, deep basses, clanging bells, happy beats, bluesy guitars... A real melting pot of everything. It really works for me. Like REALLY works. I never look to PJ Harvey to reinvent something that she has already done before; I always assume she will come up with something completely different. She doesn't ever seem to have a comfort level; she just does what she wants. And I love that about her. She will always have a piece of my heart, and so will The Hope Six Demolition Project. Instead of trying to figure out the wheres and the whys and the how comes, it would benefit us all to sit down with a pair of headphones on and listen to the album in full without any distractions. Dollar, Dollar could literally take place anywhere in the world, and if The Orange Monkey doesn’t make you think hard about life in general then you may have some thinking to do. There is much beauty in the fabulous orchestration of the album; it all comes together as one, like a large river passing through different scenes, angrily thrashing through some places, calmly floating past others, touching everything and everyone on its journey to the ocean.
The packs of sandy-colored dogs
Walked streets that looked like building sites
But piles of rocks and dust and smog
Could not block out a different light – the Orange Monkey