PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project Island Records
The Hope VI housing project, from which PJ Harvey’s ninth solo album takes its name, was a social housing measure in the US that sought to flatten dilapidated housing projects and rebuild them as mixed income housing. Opening track Community Of Hope documents Harvey’s travels around Washington D.C.’s Ward 7, an area that was particularly affected by the initiative. The track’s observations are stark: “OK, this is just drug town, just zombies, but that’s just life”, “And the school just looks like a shithole / Does that look like a nice place?” This unforgiving assessment has provoked intense criticism from Leah Garrett, a representative of the Community Of Hope initiative that looks to help those in need with healthcare, housing and education in the ward.
“We’ve been tackling some of the challenges you named in your song. We improve life in a place that you call the ‘pathway of death’,” she wrote. “By calling out this picture of poverty in terms of streets and buildings and not the humans who live here, have you not reduced their dignity? Have you not trashed the place that, for better or worse, is home to people who are working to make it better, who take pride in their accomplishments?” It’s a valid point. The track does not seek to explain itself.
The Hope Six Demolition Project’s lyrical content draws heavily from Harvey’s wanderings to places of social struggle and warfare, including Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington D.C. The surprise is that much of the delivery lies in the straight up recounting of her observations, omitting any other further musings. On Orange Monkey she states: “I took a plane to a foreign land and said I’d write down what I found.” No doubt. The content is grim, and while there’s not been a great deal of musical evolution since Harvey’s 2011 album Let England Shake, the songs here are brass-smothered, denser and more compact. As with Let England Shake, struggle and war remain at the forefront, though rather dwelling on the shaping of countries through historical conflict, Hope Six is more directly concerned with the struggle in present form. The observations of Afghanistan in Ministry Of Defence recounts this “human hell” – needles, spoons, shit, and everything in between.
The Hope Six Demolition Project is a provocative compilation of Harvey’s fascination with conflict. Where Let England Shake existed in a century old dialogue that leant itself to tearful melancholy, Hope Six is upfront, stark and difficult. The connections between her lyrical inspirations and her intent aren’t easy to decipher, but the power of her delivery mirrors the determination of an artist who’s never afraid to embrace the pain.