Let England Shake is the eighth studio album by English singer-songwriter and musician PJ Harvey, released on 14 February 2011 by Island Records. Production began around the time of White Chalk's release in 2007, though it is a departure from the piano-driven introspection of that album. Let England Shake was written over a two-and-a-half year period, and recorded in five weeks at a church in Dorset during April and May 2010.
Upon release, the album received numerous accolades. It was placed 2011 "Album of the Year" by 16 publications and in September 2011 won the coveted Mercury Prize. It was PJ Harvey's fourth nomination overall (including another win in 2001), making her the most successful artist in the prize's history. The album also won the Uncut Music Award in November 2011, as well as Album of the Year in the 2012 Ivor Novello Awards.
Harvey began writing lyrics for the album before setting the words to music. She has cited the poetry of Harold Pinter and T.S. Eliot as influences, as well as the artwork of Salvador Dalí and Francisco de Goya and music of The Doors, The Pogues, and The Velvet Underground.She has also spoken of researching the history of conflict, including the Gallipoli Campaign, and reading modern-day testimonies from civilians and soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During some solo shows some years prior to working on this album, Harvey had begun playing the autoharp. She told local newspaper Bridport News in 2011: "I was really enjoying this different, enormous, wide breadth of sound that the autoharp gives. It's quite a delicate sound, but it's also like having an entire orchestra at your fingertips. I began by writing quite a lot on the autoharp, and then slowly as time went by, (because this album was written over two and a half years)… my writing started moving into experimenting with different guitars, and using different sound applications, ones that I had never really experimented with."
On the subject of a new vocal style for the album, Harvey commented that "I couldn't sing [the songs] in a rich strong mature voice without it sounding completely wrong. So I had to slowly find the voice, and this voice started to develop, almost taking on the role of a narrator."
Harvey told Spinner in March 2009 that she had recorded demos for the album and planned to record in early 2010, commenting: "All I can say is that I am pleased with it, because I feel it's a grand departure from anything [I've done] before. If I've done that, then for me, it's worked. I'm already feeling like I did, and I'm happy. I'm very pleased because I'm not repeating myself."
After initially searching for recording studios in Berlin in mid-2009 while touring A Woman a Man Walked By with John Parish, Harvey instead opted to record at St. Peter's Church, Eype, near Bridport in Dorset. She told Bridport News: "I remembered that the man who now runs this church as an arts venue had said to me a few times if I'd ever wanted to use it for a show or rehearsals that he'd love that, and that's when I approached him and asked if we could use it."
The album was recorded in the church in a five-week period in April and May 2010 with long-time collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey, and with Parish and Flood co-producing; drummer Jean-Marc Butty added parts at a later stage. Much of the record was recorded live, and Harvey has described the recording as reasonably improvisational, commenting: "I wanted to leave room for them so they could bring their feelings into it as well. Usually I would have planned everything and known what instrumentation I wanted. This time I demoed the songs mostly with one or two instruments with a voice and that was as much as I had. So I basically had the chords and a couple of saxophone melodies, a couple of voice melodies and that was what I took with me to the church. We rehearsed the songs as if we were rehearsing to play them live and found quite quickly that we had only rehearsed a song through maybe twice and Flood had started recording us." The sessions were recorded by engineer Rob Kirwan.
The album features Harvey's first on-record use of the saxophone.