The Beautiful Lie
The word "prolific" really doesn't do justice to a talent such as Ed Harcourt. 'The Beautiful Lie', his fifth album since the turn of the millennium, is one of those records that on first inspection, many critics would probably look at once, dismiss it with the rest of the Gray/Blunt/Rice pretenders, and throw it to one side, never to be heard of again.
But then of course, its highly unlikely that they've ever heard any of Harcourt's previous works, such as the immaculate 'Born In The 70s' or the album which it came from, 2004's 'Strangers', so their ignorance is compounded by their loss. Since then of course, Harcourt released the mammoth download-only fest of outtakes and rarities that was 'Elephant's Graveyard', and while the overall quality was unsurprisingly, not up to the standard of its predecessors, it still represented another achievement for one of the country's hardest working singer/songwriters.
So, bearing all that in mind, and obviously with the rise to prominence of the Blunts and Powters of this world, what does 'The Beautiful Lie' hold in store for Harcourt, and more importantly, is it a progression from the dark, inhibited world of 'Strangers', which many of his most devoted fans deem to be his best work, better even than his Mercury Music Prize nominated introduction 'Here Be Monsters'.
In many ways, the answer to that question is a resounding "Yes", as 'The Beautiful Lie' feels like an amalgamation of all the best parts of Harcourt's previous works, not to mention collating a varying range of moods and styles that could quite easily have been lifted from any of their creator's earlier records, which is no mean feat in itself.
Opener 'Whirlwind In D Minor' sets the scene quite eloquently for the rest of the record, casting aspersions over a country-tinged backbeat with such wistful observations as "Will you love me when I'm old?", almost like a new age Radiohead after a six month secondment in Nashville. What follows though isn't a deluge of overworked melancholia. Instead the party anthem 'You Only Call Me When I'm Drunk' and latent rocker 'Shadowboxing' show a more upbeat side to Harcourt's persona, while the bass heavy garage sprawl of 'I Am The Drug', in which Harcourt insists "I'm not dry…" over a buzzing aurora of pedals that make it sound like it was recorded in Lenny Kaye's living room shows a variant that draws comparisons with the likes of Brendan Benson.
Elsewhere, there is a feeling of "business as usual" in that Harcourt's folky roots come to the fore, particularly on the balladeering 'Rain On The Pretty Ones' and closing 'Good Friends Are Hard To Find', while the haunting 'Braille' sees him agonising with the prospect of death before buoyantly announcing "I'm not scared of dying" at the song's own end.
Standing out tall and proud from the rest of the record though is the uber-sounding orchestral delight that is 'Revolution In The Heart', a reflective call to arms that mimics REM's 'It's the End Of The World (As We Know It)' for sentiment but ends up sounding like an urban Bob Dylan for 21st century Britain. In fact, I'd stake my house on this being the song that could break Harcourt in the mainstream if his label bosses at Heavenly were to release it as a single.
Saying that, Harcourt obviously doesn't require celebrity status like many of his contemporaries, and indeed why should he when his muse is capable of releasing such definitive collections as this. 'The Beautiful Lie' may not be his most distinctive album, but its sure as hell his most complete, and one that will ensure Ed Harcourt remains a focal figure on the map of credibility as far as singer/songwriters go.