Album: Ed Harcourt

Strangers, HEAVENLY
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The Independent Culture

Harcourt's third full-length album opens with a squall of feedback, as if he's trying to escape the straitjacket of politeness that attaches to being a singer-songwriter who plays a piano. Or it could signal his emergence from the death fixation of last year's From Every Sphere, as Strangers finds Harcourt reacting to the emotional roller-coaster of a love affair, rather than a bereavement. "The storm is coming, it's gonna be a beautiful sound/ I hope it turns your life upside down," he anticipates in the opening track, and by the title track, a few songs later, he and his new love are at it like knives: "Ferociously we fumble in the dark/ Two lovers acting like strangers/ Society won't cage us..." The vacillations between elation and dejection are capably negotiated, but the album tends to lose focusas Harcourt gets sidetracked into tangential matters. Some of these are lyrically quite ambitious; the eponymous toy in "Music Box" continues "playing the same tune" for the looting soldier as it did for the fleeing refugees who abandoned it. Others are as bland as "Kids (Rise from the Ashes)", a children-are-the-future sermon. Strangers is less distinctive musically than his earlier albums, with trumpet and harmonium imposing a routinely melancholy tone on some tracks. Its main fault, though, is that one is never really persuaded to care about the characters in the songs.

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