To paraphrase the great Jacko: Polly Jean is not our lover. In fact, she’s not interested in being one either. In a time where every other album seems to be about the self, the ego around relationships, PJ Harvey (alongside ANOHNI) is one of the few not only taking a look at the world around us, but also holding up a mirror to those who are part of its fabric.
The Hope Six Demolition Project is a record that wears its aspirations quite brazenly (The Ministry of Defence, no prizes for guessing what that one’s tackling). “And the school just looks like a shithole,” Harvey sings on opening track The Community of Hope. It’s the sort of line that only she can get away with it – in fact she likes the word ‘shit’ quite a lot in this album – plonking it in the middle of a near-campfire melody that’s so on-message it’s almost like a sitcom parody. Almost.
There’s sometimes an obligation to admire a political album for its message, especially when it comes from a national treasure like Harvey. For the most part she avoids it being the overly-worthy, cacophonous mess this sort of thing ends up as – Harvey is foremost a songwriter and a bloody good one, which explains why you’ll find yourself singing along to A Line In The Sand and The Wheel without realising.
But it’s in River Anacostia where we find the heart of the album, with Harvey at her most mellifluous and the stillness both absorbing the fire before it and preparing us for a further flurry afterwards. It’s the sort of moment that Hope Six could do with a lot more of, but when it’s amid the classic-sounding pop-rock of The Wheel it doesn’t matter. Sticking it to the man never sounded so great.