Album Reviews

Ed Harcourt – El Magnifico

(Deathless) UK release date: 29 March 2024

A dramatic, windswept gem of an album that’s quite probably his best since Here Be Monsters

Ed Harcourt - El Magnifico Ed Harcourt could well hold claim to being Britain’s most underrated songwriter. It’s over 20 years ago since he introduced himself with the excellent debut album Here Be Monsters, and in that time he’s released a string of albums, worked as a songwriter with artists like Lana Del Rey, Sophie Ellis Bextor and Paloma Faith, and, in the last few years, has even dipped into producing full instrumental albums.

In fact, El Magnifico, Harcourt’s tenth record, is his first album of vocal-led songs since 2016’s Furnaces. The break from traditional songwriting has obviously done him good, for El Magnifico is an aptly titled record – full of the sort of sweeping, dramatic songs that have become Harcourt’s trademark, but with a new found focus which means it’s one of his most compelling records to date.

It’s certainly an album that hits the ground running. Opening track 1987 seems like an autobiographical track, where Harcourt names various years in his life where he appears to have dodged death – “1987 – the oak broke through my window, missed me by an inch” or “Autumn 2009, blacked out on the drugs, drank only to get drunk”, before bursting into a big chorus of “feels good to be with you, being alive”. It’s powered along by Harcourt’s piano and his wife Gita’s luscious string arrangements and builds up an almost celebratory atmosphere to kick off the album.

That’s followed by the swooning pop-soul of Into The Loving Arms of Your Enemy and then one of the best tracks on the album, Broken Keys. The latter is a beautifully yearning track, with a soaring chorus of “won’t you fix me up? I’m a little messed up”. The addition of guest vocalists Greg Dulli (of Afghan Whigs fame) and Scottish folk singer Kathryn Williams (both of whom have worked with Harcourt in the past) just adds to the song’s emotional impact.

El Magnifico is definitely an album of phases. The big pop songs of the album’s early stages make way for some dramatic piano ballads during the middle section. Deathless is a huge, dramatic track (apparently inspired by a fever dream, which can be heard in the song’s slightly woozy arrangement), it utilises the age-old ‘quiet verse, loud chorus’ template to absolutely blistering effect. It’s bookended by two fragile piano ballads, Ghost Ship and Anvils & Hammers – the latter, with its muted trumpet, nods towards Tom Waits’ more bruised bar-room ballads.

There’s a return to more wistful guitar pop on the excellently titled My Heart Can’t Keep Up My Mind, which name-drops The Beatles for good measure, while Seraphina unfolds gloriously over five and a half minutes, anchored by Harcourt’s exquisite piano – the song’s quasi-classical chamber pop is reminiscent of Rufus Wainwright, but without the sometimes more overwrought nature that the Canadian-American can sometimes slip into.

The yearning title track brings to a close an album that is quite probably Harcourt’s best since Here Be Monsters. For anyone who cares to explore this dramatic, windswept gem of an album, the ‘underrated’ tag will be applied no more – Harcourt is simply one of our best musicians. El Magnifico, indeed.

buy Ed Harcourt MP3s or CDs
Spotify Ed Harcourt on Spotify

More on Ed Harcourt
Ed Harcourt – El Magnifico
Ed Harcourt – Beyond The End
Ed Harcourt – Furnaces
Track-By-Track: Ed Harcourt – Time Of Dust
Ed Harcourt – Time Of Dust