The Hope Six Demolition Project
For her latest project, PJ Harvey took a voyeuristic approach to the recording process by allowing the public to witness the band in the studio through one-way glass. On face value, this seems a bit gimmicky, but it’s a pretty fitting reflection on PJ’s songwriting for The Hope Six Demolition Project. For the concept album, she was an observer herself, taking on the role of a reporter, viewing the impact of American capitalism on the world.
PJ’s journey begins in Washington D.C. where on album opener she describes the scene she saw while driving through neighborhoods that had supposedly been rejuvenated by the Hope Six Demolition Project. Instead, PJ observes a school that “looks like a shithole”, addicts she describes as “zombies”, and what was once a mental institution, now replaced by a shiny new “Homeland Security Base”. The song ends with the sarcastic chorus of “They’re gonna put a Wal-Mart here! They’re gonna put a Wal-Mart here!” It’s obvious from the onset that this is an album focused on exposing misguided and misused bureaucracy.
“The Community of Hope”:
On “Ministry of Defence” and “Money, Money”, Harvey visits the dilapidated remains of the United State’s war on terrorism in Afghanistan. She describes a horrific, haunting scene in surgical fashion, the “Mortar holes”, “a bus depot…leveled like a building site”, and “children’s cries from the dark”. Instead of imposing her own emotions on the gravity of what she observed, she simply boils it all down in the chorus of “This is how the world will end”.
Harvey’s visit to Kosovo is discussed on “The Wheel”, an urgent, solemn track that describes the cycle of chaos that still reigns in the region. The song repeats the act of 28,000 children disappearing without much reaction from the world at large. The number is a place marker for those young people lost to crime, street labor, and even the soldiers lost during the Kosovo War in the late 90s. Despite the constant despair, the news cycle must keep spinning to the next exploitable disaster.
Musically, the album takes on a fittingly bluesy dissonance. On The Hope Six Demolition Project, the blues, which originally grew out of the disenfranchised in the United States, have soured. On the surface it may seem like the nation as a whole has progressed, but as the album explores the seedy underbelly of capitalism. Rhythmically, the album often features a rolling snare, a ghost of the Revolutionary War always pushing the songs, and the nation, forward.
The album can be best summed up by an image repeated in “Near the Memorials of Vietnam and Lincoln” – “a boy throws out his hands/ as if to feed the starlings/ but really he throws nothing – / it’s just to watch them jump.” Much like the fruitless, empty gestures of the United States, the boy taunts the hungry birds for his own diversion. Harvey may just be a bystander throughout the album, but through her observations she exposes the government’s ugly arrogance and gives light to those crushed and left behind in the country’s wake.