The album starts extremely strongly, with “The Community of Hope”. The guitar tones are both distorted and grungy, yet possess an uplifting ethereal dreaminess that is absolutely captivating the second it starts bouncing around my ear drums. The lyrics are wryly observant of a deprived area, tinged with political dissent. The vocals are intense, commanding and distinctly 90s. The distortion is amped up on “The Ministry of Defence”, as are the political statements, with lines such as, “This is the ministry of defence, stairs and walls are all that’s left, mortar holes let through the air”. The tone darkens as the album progresses through “A line in the Sand” and “Chain of Keys”.
“River Anacostia” opens with soulful harmonising male voices before succumbing to tribal drum beats and Harvey’s absolutely chilling vocal passages. I felt the quality dipped ever so slightly with “Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln” and “The Orange Monkey”, both songs being perhaps the most forgettable on the album. It swiftly picks back up on the haunting “Medicinals”, and remains consistently spell-binding through more politically charged angst on “The Ministry of Social Affairs”. “The Wheel” has an air of classic rock swagger to it, and is kitted out with a driving beat, brass section and fiery guitar solos.
The final song “Dollar, Dollar” begins with a sample of a busy street that goes on for an aggravatingly long time, before sensuous organ tones float in and out of focus, while Harvey’s vocals pierce through the dreamy haze. Experimental stabs of either Saxophones or Bassoons enter to complete the odd final songs instrumental.
If, like me, this is your first time hearing PJ Harvey’s music, I struggle to imagine anything you could find to dislike. Artfully crafted and genuinely inventive art-rock instrumentals peppered with incisive and intelligent lyrics backed up by commanding vocals. I recommend you get this album on vinyl.