As PJ Harvey is named the winner of the 2011 Mercury Prize for her album Let England Shake, music critic Lucy O’Brien tells Channel 4 News the singer “thinks in themes and grand sweeps”.
PJ Harvey scooped the 2011 Barclaycard Mercury Prize at a ceremony in London, becoming the first musician to win the award twice.
Her album Let England Shake, a conceptual work about conflict and war, beat off strong competition from fellow singer-songwriter Anna Calvi and the hotly-tipped debut album by James Blake.
It is 10 years since PJ Harvey, 41, first triumphed with Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea.
On that occasion the singer from Dorset was in the US, watching the horror of 9/11 unfold.
“It was September the 11th, 2001… I was in Washington watching the Pentagon burn from my hotel window,” she said, in her acceptance speech on Tuesday evening.
Let England Shake, her eighth studio album, focuses on themes of violence and war; in particular the Gallipoli campaign of world war one. Harvey also read accounts from soldiers and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan during the recording process, which took place in a church.
I wanted to make something meaningful not just to me but to other people. PJ Harvey
She said: “I wanted to make something meaningful not just to me but to other people… and hopefully something that would last.”
Author Lucy O’Brien, who writes about women in music, told Channel 4 News that PJ Harvey “thinks in themes, ideas and grand sweeps”.
She explained: “So often women are relegated to songs of romance or the domestic sphere, but PJ has a great arc of ambition – hence an album about war and history, traditionally ‘male’ subjects.”
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Harvey was described as “an outstanding artist” by head of the Mercury judges Simon Frith. She has been nominated for the prize four times, making her the most successful musician in its history.
The competition – won last year by The XX – is a key event within the music industry. It revitalised the career of Elbow, this year nominated for Build A Rocket Boys!, when they won three years ago.
Among the acts shortlisted for their debut albums this year were Everything Everything, Katy B, dubstep producer James Blake and rapper Ghostpoet.
Full list of nominees:
Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi
Adele - 21
Katy B - On A Mission
Metronomy - The English Riviera
Everything Everything - Man Alive
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine
Tinie Tempah - Disc-Overy
James Blake - James Blake
PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
Ghostpoet - Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam
Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys!
Gwilym Simcock - Good Days at Schloss Elmau