Release date: February 2011
Let England Shake is the eighth studio album by PJ Harvey. It was released on 14 February 2011 in the UK. Work on it began around the time of White Chalk's release in 2007, though it is a departure from the piano-driven introspection of that album. The album was written over a period of two-and-a-half years, and recorded in a five-week period at a church in Dorset in April and May 2010. The album's first single, "The Words That Maketh Murder", was released on 7" vinyl and download, backed with the b-side "The Guns Called Me Back Again".
Harvey began writing lyrics for the album before setting the words to music. She has cited the poetry of Harold Pinter and T.S. Eliot as influences, as well as the artwork of Salvador Dalí and Francisco de Goya and music of The Doors, The Pogues, and The Velvet Underground. She has also spoken of researching the history of conflict, including the Gallipoli campaign, and reading modern-day testimonies from civilians and soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the subject of a new vocal style for the album, Harvey commented that "I couldn't sing the songs in a rich strong mature voice without it sounding completely wrong. So I had to slowly find the voice, and this voice started to develop, almost taking on the role of a narrator."
Harvey told Spinner in March 2009 that she had recorded demos for the album and planned to record in the spring of 2010, commenting: "All I can say is that I am pleased with it, because I feel it's a grand departure from anything I've done before. If I've done that, then for me, it's worked. I'm already feeling like I did, and I'm happy. I'm very pleased because I'm not repeating myself."
After initially searching for recording studios in Berlin in the summer of 2009 while touring A Woman a Man Walked By with John Parish, Harvey instead opted to record at St Peter's Church, Eype, near Bridport in Dorset. She told Bridport News: "I remembered that the man who now runs this church as an arts venue had said to me a few times if I'd ever wanted to use it for a show or rehearsals that he'd love that, and that's when I approached him and asked if we could use it."
The album was recorded in the church in a five-week period in April and May 2010 with long-time collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey, and with Parish and Flood co-producing; drummer Jean-Marc Butty added parts at a later stage. Much of the record was recorded live, and Harvey has described the recording as reasonably improvisational, commenting: "I wanted to leave room for them so they could bring their feelings into it as well. Usually I would have planned everything and known what instrumentation I wanted. This time I demoed the songs mostly with one or two instruments with a voice and that was as much as I had. So I basically had the chords and a couple of saxophone melodies, a couple of voice melodies and that was what I took with me to the church. We rehearsed the songs as if we were rehearsing to play them live and found quite quickly that we had only rehearsed a song through maybe twice and Flood had started recording us."
After seeing Seamus Murphy's "A Darkness Visible" exhibition in London in 2008, Harvey contacted Murphy as she "wanted to speak to him more about his experiences being there in Afghanistan". The collaboration grew, with Murphy taking promotional photographs in July 2010 before filming accompanying videos for each song on the album.
Let England Shake entered at #8 on the UK Albums Chart with first-week sales of 22,468. This was an improvement of over 8,000 sales on the debut of Harvey's previous solo album, 2007's White Chalk, and made Let England Shake Harvey's second career UK Top 10 album – and first for 18 years, since Rid of Me peaked at #3 in the spring of 1993.
The album also entered at #32 on the Billboard 200 with sales of around 18,000, making it her second highest-charting album in the US after Uh Huh Her peaked at #29 in 2004.