on 2 July 2010
I'd never heard of Ed Harcourt before, but a strong review in the Times and the likeness to Jeff Buckley prompted me to investigate. And for once, a review that deserves it's hype and comparisons. It is indeed a rather enchanting listen. Not every song is a killer - there's at least three or four standard maudlin fillers not to my taste - but there's enough here to keep you listening over again... Church of No Religion, Lustre, Do As I Say hold their own against Buckley's all too few gems.
With so much dire dirge championed by so called music critics, well done The Times Culture Magazine for covering this refreshingly beautiful album.
Its difficult to pin down but somewhere along the way of a 10 year recording career Ed Harcourt turned from one being of the of the main contenders to someone who never seemed to accumulate any significant "silverware". It seems like only yesterday when Harcourt's 2001 debut album "Here be monsters" seemed to take up so much time on the turntable it should have been forced to pay council tax. It remains an album that leads you to question the raw justice of a world where songs like "She fell into my arms" and "Apple of my eyes" are not burned into the national music consciousness although are still raved about by a small yet fanatically loyal fan base.
Its been four years since Harcourt's last album "The beautiful lie" a serious work of huge maturity that includes one of my favourite songs of all time "Rain on the pretty ones". So what then about "Lustre", Ed Harcourt's latest release? As a starting point can I issue a "buyer beware" warning about the game of two halves review posted above from the BBC since its all a bit neat and precise. It fails to recognise that Harcourt songs generally take their own time to work into our consciousness and perseverance does pay. "Lustre" is in some respects a much brighter album than "Beautiful lie" as evidenced in the wonderful single "Do as I say not as I do" a charming pop confection with echoes of Ben Folds Five. The title track has beautiful old fashioned feel and an angelic choir like its drawn from a musical. The lyrics are splendid and its is well worth checking out with its real echo of Rufus Wainwright "Want one" era recordings. "Haywired" is a excellent pounding piano ballad with a melancholy lyric where Harcourt exclaims its "not easy to be happy and get away with it" over what feels like a Brian Wilson inspired melody helped in addition by he presence of a mellotron.
So what about the second half? Well if truth be told it actually includes three of the strongest songs on the album. "When the lost don't want to be found" is a brooding troubled song with a Phil Spector like arrangement and mournfully memorable chorus which is genuinely excellent, particularly with Harcourt's emotive vocal. And then there is "So I've been told" possibly the albums highlight a haunting construct which picks up where the late Elliot Smith left off when it comes to the agonies of the inmates of a psychiatric institution. Throughout Harcourt pleads and repeats that "so I've been told its all in my mind" and concludes that "Ghosts are calling out my name again /Saying they want to be my friends /Waiting for the moment I can join them/telling me the end is not the end." Stunning.
Finally "Lachrymosity" is a joy, starting with a gentle tinkling of the ivory's with almost a Western bar room atmosphere building to a chorus where Harcourt declares that "I'm a recipe for disaster" going on to ironically describe himself a "has been" with questionable parentage! Ed Harcourt has done a Bon Iver here, recording Lustre in a "cabin-like establishment nestled in the forest north of Seattle". The inspiration has worked and its a warm welcome return for this great singer songwriter from our Islands. "Lustre" is a very satisfying album that can suit all moods, therefore please bask in its reflective light