Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ed Harcourt album review

The Beautiful Lie
Grade: A

When Ed Harcourt sings, “music slays my heart and soul” on The Beautiful Lie, he does it with such conviction that you hang onto every word. The British singer/songwriter/pianist’s fourth album is filled with confessional tunes and enthralling character studies. They’re mostly done up in grand cabaret pop style a la Rufus Wainwright, but acoustic folk and psychedelic touches also seep into the musical woodwork. Primarily recorded on an eight-track machine at his grandmother’s home, Harcourt used a piano built in 1917.

The proceedings get off to a haunting start with “Whirlwind in D Minor.” Harcourt uses his falsetto (key lyric: “will you love me when I’m old/I’m still hoping I can get that far”) as pedal steel master BJ Cole adds eerie swirls and a Flamenco guitar pattern carries everything along.

An upbeat melody, jazz drums and sprightly guitar work from Graham Coxon (ex-Blur) belies the dire sentiments in “Visit From the Dead Dog.” Here, Harcourt touches upon religion and politics: “God has the last laugh from up on high/he lets us kill/as people die for their faith/we call it triumph of the will.” A thunderous, Spectorian barrage of instruments propels “Revolution in the Heart,” where Harcourt goes through a litany various troubled characters and The Magic Numbers lend their pipes to a soaring chorus.

Other standouts include “Late Night Partner,” a stark, brokenhearted piano ballad with a gorgeous cinematic flair, the stirring, orchestrated drama of “Rain on the Pretty Ones,” simple, acoustic guitar and violin-driven “The Last Cigarette,” about a terminally ill smoker (shades of Damien Rice, albeit far less grating), “Scatterbrain,” a waltz which switches time signatures, and the expansive “Braille,” Harcourt’s duet with his wife leavened by treated guitar. Dramatic and personal, this is Harcourt’s finest effort since 2001’s Here Be Monsters.

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