The first song released from The Hope Six Demolition Project, “The Wheel” has fomented controversy but I am mostly going to steer clear of it, except to note that PJ Harvey has a long and unstinting career as a musical artist and deserves respect and benefit of the doubt. And: that I think it’s foolish and close-minded to find fault with her for taking artistic risks. When writing about real places with real issues, there is always the potential for uncomfortable overlap and/or interplay between someone’s artistic vision and the real lives real people are leading. But I don’t think criticizing an obviously intelligent and talented artist based on a kneejerk and probably limited understanding of song lyrics is either helpful or interesting. And with that let’s proceed to the song.
Continuing in a sonic landscape related to the agitative, semi-stripped-down vibe of 2011’s Let England Shake, “The Wheel” is propelled by an insistent, chant-like melody. At first, each lyrical line is delivered as a stand-alone pronouncement—call and response with the response, basically. The chorus gives us a slight variation on the verse melody and now with the response filled in. Keep your ears on the edges of the carefully constructed mix, where some feisty guitar work can intermittently be heard. And check out the hand claps—I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for songs that use hand claps with which you can’t really clap along. I’m easily amused, what can I say?
And can I also note that I’m delighted to have an available free and legal download at this point in time from an artist of Harvey’s gravitas and caliber? Don’t get me wrong, I love finding lesser-known acts to feature but can’t help noticing the shrinking supply in recent years of free and legal MP3s from the not-lesser-known camp. We are indeed at the tail end of the (almost) late, (almost) great Download Era, but this is the first time I’ve been able to feature Polly Jean Harvey. I’m not sure that means anything but enjoy the offering.