There’s nobody else quite like Ed Harcourt. There certainly aren’t many careers that have been as varied as his.
Since his breakthrough with his debut full-length Here Be Monsters, he’s played on-stage with Patti Smith and Marianne Faithfull – and contributed, most recently, to Faithfull’s incredible new record, Negative Capability. But, he’s also found his albums torn to shred by tastemakers like Pitchfork (1.9 for The Beautiful Lie LP must have particularly stung), despite unanimous praise elsewhere.
On his eighth LP Beyond The End Harcourt presents us with 12 instrumental pieces that range from the hauntingly atmospheric (Wolves Changes Rivers) to the cinematic (Circling Red Kites). It’s hard to properly judge a sparse, minimal instrumental record from someone so accustomed to rich, lush soundscapes filled with details. But here, he seems to have found a way to make at least a few of the pieces stick – some piano lines seem to hang around in your head longer than you might think. Circling Red Kites in particular has an end-credits feel – it’s something you might expect to hear at the end of a Hannibal Lecter movie.
The thunderous chords that underpin Keep Us Safe are evocative of a stormy night, and the gaps between them are filled with deliberate, considered notes. A pair of pieces in the middle of the record are dedicated to his parent (one each), and are both considerable additions.
For My Father is dense, full of reverberating notes, whereas For My Mother is sultry piano jazz – think early Tom Waits. That he has dedicated a piece to each of his parents, where both clearly exemplify his thoughts about them, shows – if it were ever in doubt – that Harcourt has masterful control over his songwriting.
In the final analysis Beyond The End is a meditative, soothing record designed to placate his fans, and perhaps provide their family members with a ready-made Christmas gift for the Harcourt fan in their lives. Yet there is, unfortunately, very little here to drag new listeners in. This feels like something that Harcourt did for his own satisfaction, and as a little treat for his fans. There’s nothing wrong with that, it doesn’t leave a lot for the rest of us to dig into.