After her terrific war-themed Let England Shake of 2011, PJ Harvey is still contemplating the big, bad world and attempting to portray it in song.
The 11 songs of the Hope Demolition Project spring from a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan, Kosovo and Washington D.C., all part of a wider project also involving a book of poetry and the work of lensman Seamus Murphy.
That may suggest the album requires those other components to join the artistic dots. But it's not the case. The merits of the lyrical holiday snaps aside, it's possibly the English singer-songwriter's most approachable set since her New York-inspired Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea from 2000.
And not just because it rocks big and direct on The Ministry of Defence (complete with guest shopping list from British dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson) or does catchy stuff like rip off the tune of Jonathan Richman's Egyptian Reggae on A Line in the Sand.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Yes, those travelogue lyrics can snag a little: the words describing the images in the Washington-set Medicinals and Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln feel cluttered than eloquent. And there are some weak moments (like the dreary Orange Monkey, sounding like it's sprung from a stage production) where the music and words fail to ignite.
But the best of this (including The Ministry of Social Affairs, which kicks off with an old blues singer sample) creates plenty of power from its ragged guitars, squawking saxophones and Harvey's ethereal, singular voice.
Topped with her grim postcard lyrics, Harvey's album creates a fascinating big, bad world of its own.