When Polly Jean Harvey walks up in front of thousands, she leads her band in a marching parade throughout the stage, leading a spectacular tour de force with her saxophone and her bewildering attire of dark green feathers and leather.
Seeing this woman stand 5 feet tall on stage above you in the grandiose setup at Zitadelle Spandau Berlin, being at her toes is like watching an army enter a circus, soldiers change into acrobats suits, and still perform their most righteous occupation with the single intent to make the small hairs on your forearms dance.
Is this the frail girl you’ve once seen on the TV screen when you were 9 years, the decade was 1990s, presumably when everything was made better – art, love, records? Could she be the flamboyant queen of drama and damage – black hair soaked wet and make-up running down her visage – in C’mon Billy? The supernatural visceral snake woman from Down By The Water? The pale forest Faun asking Who Will Love Me Now in her album White Chalk? The political advocate waving the white flag in the midst of England’s crushing torment? With a coming of age album – The Hope Six Demolition Project, a poignant sarcastic depiction of poverty tourism, filled with heavy-handed images of Washington DC and Afghanistan – an utmost versatile voice and a stage presence that shakes and stirs stadiums, PJ Harvey is all these people in one single groundbreaking artist.
Between her old and new songs, Harvey majestically bounces on heavy rock to 50ft Queenie, unfolds hypnotically like an anaconda on To Bring You My Love and makes a perfect choir girl on Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln encore.
Harvey’s ninth studio album, The Hope Six Demolition Project was released on 15 April 2016 on Island Records, and it’s the first produced since her acclaimed Mercury Prize-winning album Let England Shake, released in 2011.
The album’s title is a reference to the HOPE VI projects in the United States, “where run-down public housing in areas with high crime rates has been demolished to make room for better housing, but with the effect that many previous residents could no longer afford to live there, leading to claims of social cleansing. The HOPE VI program is directly referenced in the album’s opening track and second single “The Community of Hope”
The title is inspired by Harvey’s trip to Washington D.C. with photographer/filmmaker Seamus Murphy where she was given a tour by Paul Schwartzman of The Washington Post, who directly influenced some of the lyrics on the song. Upon its release, the song drew criticism directly from politicians running for the council seat in Ward 7 in Washington, D.C.
Photography by Ioana Cristina Casapu