Social issues has always had a strong influence on music and when done correctly it can make something great. Just look at my best of 2015 list and you’ll notice albums like Algiers, Compton, and of course To Pimp a Butterfly all deal with various issues and I love them for that. I mention this because on The Hope Six Demolition Project PJ Harvey is less of a songwriter and more of a journalist, writing about her experience in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Washington D.C. Considering I am currently taking journalism classes, this is something that appeals to me.
With a few listens I began to pick apart all of the stories being brought forward in the songs and I became thoroughly invested. That might be because of how Harvey chooses to tackle these topics. Instead of focusing on the politics of what led to all of the situations being discussed, but instead puts us into these situations. Songs like “Chain of Keys” which describes an old lady in Kosovo who cares for the property of her neighbors who no longer reside there, in hopes that they will return. I found this kind of delivery helped to bring the audience closer to the stories she is singing about.
The wide variety of subjects also interested me. We do not just hear of Harvey’s experiences in faraway countries that Americans might find easy to ignore, but she also brings it home to our countries capital. She is quite critical of some of the stuff that goes on here too. On the opener “The Community of Hope” the titular HOPE VI plan is attacked in a bold, fearless way. “River Anacostia” addresses the polluted river that the song is named after, and “Medicinals” which talks about the medicinals that used to grow in D.C.’s national park.
Aside from the gripping lyrics, the instrumentation on display is wide in variety and sounds excellent. Songs like “The Ministry of Defence” are enhanced greatly by heavy guitars that help paint an almost apocalyptic image. Harvey continues to showcase her saxophone skills, using it liberally on several songs helping to add to the soundscape. “The Orange Monkey” is another instrumental standout, which uses instruments which sound tribal to create a unique sound.
Harvey herself also delivers greatly with her vocals. On songs like “A Line in the Sand,” her higher pitched voice helps to add to the devastation that she sings about. She sounds vulnerable and troubled by what she has to sing about. Even when singing in her traditional voice, her emotions are always present, making it clear how passionate she is about what she has written. The addition of backing vocals in several tracks also adds personality and vocal variety to the album.
The record’s finale is executed excellently with the final two tracks being the best. “The Wheel” which is focused on the mass disappearances during the Kosovo War, is an excellent tribute to those who died needlessly in that war, and also to nature of war in general. It is catchy without understating its core message, something important for a song like this. Then we get to “Dollar, Dollar” where Harvey remembers seeing a boy begging by lanes of cars, for some money. Sadly, before Harvey can get money to give to the child, the car drives away, leaving him behind. This leaves the question whether or not singing about suffering in the world really does anything to help people. It is a question that is important to ask, considering the album’s narrative.
My problems with The Hope Six Demolition Project are very limited, and basically boil down to the fact that some moments I feel could have been fleshed out more. The middle section contains songs like “The Orange Monkey” and “Medicinals” that I feel were underwritten a little and could have been made longer to make more of a statement.
Overall, you probably know if this kind of album appeals to you. Those who are fans of PJ Harvey, especially her last record, Let England Shake, will greatly enjoy this. It is a unique merger of music and journalism and I am really enjoying it.
Best Tracks: The Community of Hope, The Ministry of Defence, A Line in the Sand, Chain of Keys, The Ministry of Social Affairs, The Wheel, Dollar, Dollar
Worst Track: Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln