Imagine having an album dedicated to you, written about you, with each lyric alluding to something that you’ve said or done. If this doesn’t quite take your fancy, then for God’s sake don’t meet Ed Harcourt. One girl met him, he fell in love with her, and the result is his latest album Strangers.
This girl is now in the tapestry of the album, she is embedded within its sinews, she comes to life with each heartfelt song, her spirit rises with every poetic line. Quite a heavy burden for one person, especially now the whole world can listen in on the passionate throes of their relationship. But then again, she must have known what she was in for.
Ever since his debut album Here Be Monsters, Ed Harcourt has marked himself out as a modern Keats, wearing his heart on his sleeve, singing poetic lyrics about love and loss to painfully beautiful music. He sounds like Badly Drawn Boy enjoying a late night drink with Jeff Buckley. His second album From Every Sphere was also another delve into his romantic world, though this third album is certainly his most honest and open yet.
Harcourt’s world is sculpted from pounding hearts and feverishly scribbled poetry by candlelight. This man lives an impassioned life. But don’t think he is a troubled soul or tortured troubadour – emotions are the fodder of his song-writing, he tackles them head on, and indeed he does just that in opening track The Storm Is Coming.
From the first sneer of the apocalyptic guitar this song is an emphatic rabble-rousing stand against the world. Each couplet comes armed with melodies that rise like a sharp crescendo, with Harcourt standing firm against any impending storm that life flings at him, singing: “The storm is coming, I hope it pulls your life upside down”. This is certainly no limp-wristed frilly-shirted romantic poet we’re listening to.
Again a strong stance takes hold in Born In The ’70s, a song with stream-of-consciousness lyrics that’s sung like Harcourt’s running for the bus. But then we come to the radio-friendly This One’s For You, also his forthcoming single, which is so honest and passionately enchanting that it, I have to admit, welled up tears in my eyes.
Title track Strangers is another romantic gem in which Harcourt lifts up the veil and invites you in so he can tell you his inner-most thoughts. It’s quite a beat-studded love song where he defiantly sings: “Remember how it was, they said it wouldn’t work, you proved them wrong, took on everyone”. Let Love Not Weigh Me Down on the other hand is a reflective whispery track where he admits he is “trying to make sense of it all”.
The rich tapestry of emotions continues on with Loneliness, an upbeat song – that comes somewhat unexpected judging by the title, while the plaintive Open Book typifies what Harcourt does best: “I am still an open book and you can have a secret look”. The album ends with Black Dress, a snug little lovesong with a glorious lulling trumpet solo to soothe you back into the real world.
The richness of Harcourt’s singing is thanks to the songs being recorded live, using natural instruments (played mostly by Harcourt himself) such as the piano, trumpet and violin. Perhaps the natural feel of the album also comes from where it was recorded: a studio set in the heart of a forest in Sweden, how typically romantic!
Strangers is a superb third album that comes filled with runaway thoughts, pleas, wails, melancholy whispers and rich melodies. It’s like you’re listening in on Harcourt’s cathartic processes, you’re wading through the exposed heart of this passionate young man. It’s almost disturbing to be privy to a man’s obsessions and loves, but at the same time there is a real connection between artist and listener. Whoever it was that inspired this album: thank you.