PJ Harvey – The Wheel is rock song to emerge from her long-awaited ninth LP might illuminate the intention. In “The Wheel,” some 28,000 children have disappeared, and all we do is watch. We see them play and die violent deaths, witness their public memorial, and “watch them fade out,” as Harvey sings over 20 times at the end. The figure has no attribution: a crass search of “28,000 children disappear” brings up figures pertaining to gun crime, child street labor in Kabul, or the number of NATO troops initially sent to Kosovo in the late 1990s. The wheel turns and one tragedy swiftly replaces another, seizing air-time and attention.
When PJ Harvey discussed the intentions behind the public recording sessions for her new record, she mostly focused on the resonance of Somerset House and its role in wars past. She didn’t talk much about the fact that she and her band would be under near-constant scrutiny as the public gawked at them through one-way glass, which remained a fairly mysterious creative impulse.
Are we complicit? Harvey, too, is just an observer—an unflinching one, singing in her high, sometimes staticky voice, as tarnished saxophone weaves through chuntering acoustic instruments and tamped-down electric squall. The effect is a pallid, soured blues that rattles like an open-backed Jeep down a dusty track, and never lets the tension waver, sustaining it from its 90-second intro to its 90-second outro. With its handclap rhythm, it feels like a sibling to Let England Shake‘s “The Words That Maketh Murder,” in which Harvey adopted the perspective of a traumatized soldier and sang, “I’ve seen and done things I want to forget.” But forgetting lets mistakes happen again. Harvey offers no conclusions with “The Wheel,” but she doesn’t look away.
Source: PJ Harvey: “The Wheel”