The Hope Six Demolition Project is best appreciated as a catalog of observations from a unempathetic spectator. It’s a political album, in theory – but one that can only be appreciated upon recognition of the lens through which the speaker is narrating their journey. The speaker of The Hope Six Demolition Project is not necessarily Harvey, herself, but the unrighteous, dissatisfied, one-dimensional voice of the middle and upper class. It isn’t a voice that the listener should sympathize with (“Okay now, this is just drug town, just zombies… but that’s life!” she sings in opener “The Community of Hope”), but that’s the point. It’s a powerful album in the same vein that Jenny Holzer’s ‘Inflammatory Essays’ are powerful. Through the eyes of the gentrifier, Harvey is able to paint a warped vision of Washington DC’s low-income neighborhoods and a deeply unsettling vision of white, neo-liberal American government as it exists today. While it is not necessarily Harvey’s place to satire the role of the gentrifier, the album is, regardless, a fascinating and wholly unique listen from one of the most interesting voices of our times.
Harvey’s latest release is the product of both an experimental art project and reflections of her own explorations in Washington DC, Kosovo, and Afghanistan with a war photographer. The recording sessions took place behind a one-way glass at Somerset House in London, while spectators were invited to observe the album creation process. “A Line In the Sand” and “The Orange Monkey” are two particularly catchy standouts from her sessions in Somerset, both of which deserve a place on any “Best of PJ Harvey” (and “Best of 2016”) mix.
Despite its title, The Hope Six Demolition Project is not a hopeful album. It is dark. While the album outlines problem after problem, it offers no solutions (to either the woes of the speaker or the speaker’s own twisted logic). It layers troubling lyrics over saccharine melodies and militaristic horns, creating something lyrically disturbing but melodically beautiful. Musically, the album is wrapped in desperate saxophone and gorgeous choirs, while still featuring Harvey’s signature brand of moody rock. The music infects you, possesses you; it sounds the way that decaying urban sprawl feels. The Hope Six Demolition Project begs to be listened on long, rainy bus rides or during hours of quiet introspection. It is an album for liminal spaces, and likewise inhabits a liminal space within PJ Harvey’s ever-evolving discography. While the character behind the album can become confusing and, at times, feel purposeless, The Hope Six Demolition Project is nonetheless an important album that serves as some of Harvey’s most memorable work in years.