B-side albums are notoriously tricky to pull off. There’s the question of quality for one thing – with only Oasis and Suede able to make their respective B-side albums able to stand up on their own merits, they usually serve the purpose of showing exactly why such tracks are confined as ‘extras’.
Secondly, they usually throw the artist in question open to accusations of fleecing their fans – ripping off the poor soul who simply has to have every item by their idol who now has to pay twice to gain the same songs they’ve alredy collected.
Ed Harcourt has nicely sidestepped the latter problem by making Elephant’s Graveyard, his collection of B-sides and rare tracks, available as a download only release and given fans the option to download as many, or as few tracks, as they fancy. So if you’ve ever yearned for Japanese exclusives, or cover versions recorded especially for magazine mounted CDs, now’s your chance.
So now we’ve established that Elephant’s Graveyard isn’t a record company cash-in, is it actually any good? Well, while it’s unfair to expect it to reach the heights of last year’s Strangers album, it’s true to say that by its very nature, it’s only really going to appeal to fans. And, as is the usual way with B-side collections, it’s a mixture of the good, the bad, and the extremely odd.
Set out in chronological order, we have B-sides dating back to early singles Something In My Eye and She Fell Into My Arms up to the more recent fare from Strangers. There’s also previously unreleased material, plus a stunning version of Bruce Springsteen‘s Atlantic City that could only previously be found a CD with Uncut magazine. The chronological order means we can hear how Harcourt’s sound has progressed over the last five years.
Of the good stuff on here, there’s the fantastically bluesy Alligator and the frantic rockabilly sound of Little Silver Bullet. There’s also the gorgeous, string-drenched Still I Dream Of It, and Coal Black Heart, which deserves a mention if only for the priceless line “coal black heart, as lifeless as a statue in the Royal Academy Of Art”. On the second disc, there’s the manic Sugarbomb (recorded while Harcourt was drunk on red wine apparently) and the blissfully sad, piano accompanied Every Night.
But, as usual with these sort of collections, there’s a fair amount of nondescript material here as well. There are a few too many doomy ballads here, such as the rather depressing The Iceman Cometh and the dirge that is Sleepyhead. She Put A Curse On Me is an excellent song, but goes on too long thanks to the rather unnecessary ‘part 2’ spliced onto the end. Part 1 on its own is worthy of a release in its own right.
There’s also the usual little oddities that are almost de rigeur in B-side collections, such as the quirky Blackwoods Back Home and the almost unlistenable Deathsexmarch – a strange, spooky instrumental with Harcourt moaning over the top of some Tom Waits-esque percussion sounds.
Yet ultimately, this isn’t meant to be judged as a new album. Rather, it’s a treat for fans who may are looking to fill out any blank spaces in their Harcourt collection – judged on those merits, this is an occasionally brilliant reminder of what a special talent Ed Harcourt is.