Ed Harcourt, hailed as the new Tom Waits, returns with Strangers
, his fourth long player in as many years. For the most part it's no great departure from the previous three outings, but that's no bad thing considering Harcourt
has always had the ability to write a decent tune--just like Waits or his British counterpart Nick Drake. There is a distinct up-beat feeling to this collection of songs, as opposed to the last three releases, though the darker more sinister side to Harcourt still remains. This Juxtaposition is evident on tracks such as "Born in the 70s", with its poppy rhythm and chorus hook that someone like Robbie Williams would turn into a number one. The Hammond organ of the title track, "Strangers", is reminiscent of that used by seventies bands such as Supertramp, and provides the song with an optimistic air. The simplicity of the arrangement of "The Trapdoor", reminds one of what Harcourt is best at: bittersweet melancholy. Harcourt's talent as an expressive lyricist is made abundantly evident in these 12 songs. This coupled with his ability to write fine melodies, makes him one of the many contemporary British artists who are reminding us what music is all about: having a good tune that you can whistle. --Jamie Clark
Ed Harcourt escorted me home the other night. Not personally, you understand, but via my headphones, on the last northbound tube. When you're feeling tired, emotional and woozy, there are few songwriters that proffer a musical hug like Ed. There's just something about his melodic blend of romance and melodrama that's innately comforting.
The album in question that night was his second, From Every Sphere, one of my favourite records of 2003. Since then, he's been frolicking in Swedish snow, touring the US with REM and, most importantly, falling in love. Strangers is the end product of an eventful year, it would seem, and Ed's talent certainly hasn't waned.
Listening to Mr. Harcourt is an acutely intimate experience, like catching up one-on-one with an old friend. His lyrics are consistently charming and personable ("My parents named me Ed, I tried my hardest to smile" he sings on "Born In The 70s"). His vocal production is faultless and his ability to captivate the listener unfailing (see the beautiful, organ-drenched "Something To Live For").
What is most striking about his writing on Strangers, however, is the apparent sincerity of his sentiment. It's certainly his most candid record to date. When he sings "my heart is on its sleeve" in lead single "This One's For You" he really means it; it's a gorgeous, drunken ode to new love along the lines of Badly Drawn Boy's "Pissing In The Wind" with wistful horns that tug at the heart strings.
Elsewhere, Ed shows he can be dramatic as well as delicate. "The Storm Is Coming" and "Let Love Not Weigh Me Down" are rousing, dizzying epics that would sit happily in a Jeff Buckley songbook, whilst "The Music Box" tells a poignant wartime tale.
The record benefits from a richness of sound throughout and is graced with a healthy variety of instruments, played mainly by Ed himself (and presumably that includes the playful kazoo on the title track). Although the tail end of the album doesn't quite reach the standard set by the bulk of the songs on offer here, Strangers is further proof that Ed Harcourt is one of the UKs finest songwriters. --Richard Banks
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