For a prolific songwriter like PJ Harvey, each new record she adds to her expansive catalogue is going to come with a certain level of reverence, regardless of its final impression. After becoming a high profile artist in the mid 90’s for her mixture of deep blues rhythms and tones with indie rock splendor, Harvey has since traded in celebrity for artistry, letting nine studio albums do her speaking for her. On her latest, The Hope Six Demolition Project¸ Harvey seemingly has a lot to say about the intersectionality of politics and culture, touching on specific examples of gentrification (the album title comes from an infamous plan to tear down public housing projects with high crime rates), political corruption, and the struggle of the common person. However, despite well executed performances by Harvey and her collaborators, a focused lyrical concept, and some very strong singles, a lot of Hope Six Demolition comes off as unnecessarily brooding and dark, and not in a good way. The record’s instrumentation is simply too busy for Harvey’s intended concepts to hit with the punch they should, and although still enjoyable, one cannot help being disappointed with the execution of The Hope Six Demolition Project.
The protest songs on The Hope Six Demolition Project that DO work are in fact so fierce and bold, it is part of what makes the albums middle section so disappointing, how boring they sound in comparison. Lead singles “The Community of Hope” and “The Wheel” come blazing out of the gate, Harvey backed by bombastic, huge drums, twangy guitars, and swirling choir vocals as she bemoans on urban social cleansing and the ugliness of war. When she sings “I watched them fade out on the end of “The Wheel”, Harvey seems to be speaking for more than the track’s example of “28,000 children” gone missing, but for almost anyone disenfranchised by majority or capitalist systems. The razor sharp guitars and Harvey’s expressive tenor on “The Ministry of Defence” recalls Bring Me Your Love’s “Meet Ze Monsta”, and finds Harvey taking on directly the English government itself, observing all the horrors of the UK’s foreign involvement as “this is how the world will end”. When she bites like she does on Hope Six Demolition’s best moments, PJ Harvey really does make some potent statements. Unfortunately, the majority of The Hope Six Demolition Project gets lost in its own concept and sound, and ultimately is just too much for relatability.
There are a lot of sections on this album where Harvey is backed by an almost army sounding vocal barrage, intended thematically for her to sound as if she is singing with the “everyman”, the societal underdog she champions on The Hope Six Demolition Project. With some of the detail work on this album though, it is a strange assertion, for many casual listeners will probably not appreciate the unique compositions Harvey presents here. The slow, marshy vibes of “Chain of Keys” and “A Line in the Sand” feature world-music inspired woodwinds and snare marches akin to Beirut, but are executed nowhere as charmingly. Final single “The Orange Monkey” explores these themes more originally, and the meandering, steadily building beat is a nice refresher after Hope Six Demolition Project’s most dragging bit (see “River Anacostia”). In all, although the intended messages are strong, there is too much metaphor, too much pretense, and too many ideas present on The Hope Six Demolition Project for it to be appreciated as a whole. And whilst by no means a bad album, it does fall short of the high expectations Harvey has set with her previous material, and with that context in mind, The Hope Six Demolition Project can be an engaging listen, if nothing else.
– Andre I.