A Scattered Smorgasbord
PJ Harvey’s The Hope Six Demolition Project seems, on many fronts, like it should be a substantial, if not excellent, album. Harvey turned her songwriting bona fides to an ambitious new goal: capturing the culture of the United States’ HOPE VI housing projects. Yet, despite all of the reasons to excitedly anticipate the album — its distilled, unadorned rock aesthetic, or the five-year gap between it and 2011’s Let England Shake — it fails to be more than a middle-of-the-road garage rock release.
Harvey’s inspiration seems to ebb throughout the album. The album’s opening track, “The Community Of Hope,” sets a high-water mark that Harvey struggles to reach again. The song synthesizes a captivating arrangement from overdriven guitars, a barely-there keyboard, fat, dull tom-toms and understated brass. In the track’s outro, Harvey expertly ties a single detail — “They’re gonna put a Walmart here” — to pounding, pulsing drums and chants.
Harvey maintains her intensity and intrigue throughout the next track, “The Ministry Of Defence,” a macabre rumination on bureaucracy, or squalor, or the end of the world, or something else entirely. Already a problem that haunts The Hope Six Demolition Project begins to surface. Despite the specific inspiration that Harvey calls upon in the album’s title, she often scatters the focus of her tracks throughout a smorgasbord of topics.
By the time that Harvey reaches “Medicinals,” an ode to naturopathic medicines, she has breached so many different topics that the continued exploration becomes confusing. Harvey’s decision to anchor most of the tracks with simple, grounded guitar-and-drum arrangements helps to buoy the album, but the songs rarely warrant a second listen. Harvey pulls of a brilliant last act with the beautifully harmonized, uplifting “Dollar, Dollar,” but for The Hope Six Demolition Project as a whole, it’s too little, too late.