Tag Archives: a silver mt zion

England, Shaking

I’m really loving Let England Shake right now, so; some thoughts.

Despite the way it seems to have been characterised, it’s not really a protest album, is it? Lyrically, she seems to be largely concerned with First World War-era futility and the decline of the British Empire. Which – despite our apparent insistence on continued interference with other countries’ affairs – has really already happened. These days there is no British Empire, just a small island with rather more influence, globally, than it deserves. It seems to me that any attempt to deal with England as it exists today would have to focus on its disproportionate financial sector (employing 25% of the population, IIRC), and the impact of the neoliberal regime instigated by Thatcher and maintained by every government since.

Her focus on soldiers too, feels slightly anachronistic. These days there are surely very few (if any) conflicts which follow that ww1 course of a huge number of soldiers fighting a huge number of similiarly-equipped soldiers. With the – horrific – technology we’ve developed over the last century, it seems we have far fewer soldiers involved in war, doing far more damage. And generally fighting forces who may as well be using sticks and stones, considering the vast technological superiority of their foes. Surely if you’re going to talk about the casualties of war these days, you’d have to focus on the civilians who are increasingly treated as collateral damage. I think A Silver Mt. Zion’s Ring Them Bells is a far more current look at war than anything on Let England Shake:

ring them bells
now freedom has come and gone
we’ve been waiting so long
never ever so long
now freedom has come and gone

imagine the view
from a helicopter gunship
a man comes into view
and you hit a switch
and you cut that man in two

There’s also an odd disconnect between the sound of the album and its lyrical content. Sonically, the album is lush and polished – it’s a gorgeous, gorgeous thing. Yet her lyrics are almost solely concerned with death and decay:

and what is the glorious fruit of our land?
its fruit is deformed children

And the first part of All and Everyone is fantastic…

death was everywhere,
in the air
and in the sounds
coming off the mounds
of bolton’s ridge.
death’s anchorage.
when you rolled a smoke
or told a joke,
it was in the laughter
and drinking water,
it approached the beach
as strings of cutters
dropped into the sea and lay around us.

…but it doesn’t really match the rather pretty arrangement behind it. It’s maybe similar to the ‘no art after the holocaust’ position – how could you create something which could encompas even a fraction of the horror involved – but I still feel these lyrics are crying out for a far harsher, far more uncompromising sonic backdrop.

That said, it’s an album that I haven’t been able to get out of my head for the past few weeks, and I suspect it’ll be on my stereo for a while yet.