CD Review of The Beautiful Lie by Ed Harcourt
Recommended if you like
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Peter Bruntnell
Ed Harcourt: The Beautiful Lie

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

d Harcourt’s reputation as a starry-eyed shoegazer gets a bit of a jolt on The Beautiful Lie, a title that could be justifiably interpreted as a repudiation of the low-cast branding he’s been saddled with since launching his career at the tender age of 23 with the widely heralded Maplewood EP. Not that it isn’t well deserved; Harcourt’s previous efforts have been marked by a distinct haze of melancholia, the result, no doubt, of listening ever so intently to the works of such like-minded mentors as Jeff Buckley and Tom Waits earlier in his youth. He conceded his hazy perspective early on, in fact, with a confessional ode entitled “Weary and Bleary Eyed.” That being the case, how could one argue otherwise?

Although released in the U.K. two years ago, The Beautiful Lie made its way to these shores only recently, a product perhaps of America’s inability to get any sort of handle on his previous works, From Every Sphere and Strangers. Indeed, even the album titles suggested a standoffish approach that likely put many would-be listeners at arm’s length. That’s remedied to a great extent here, on what is arguably Harcourt’s best album to date. The aloofness becomes alluring, with a swirling tapestry of textures and a kaleidoscope of song and sound. It’s a musical mix that encompasses stunningly beautiful ballads like the forlorn echoes of “The Last Cigarette,” the aching embrace of “Late Night Partner” and “Rain on the Pretty Ones,” as well as the tattered rumble of “I Am the Drug,” the pure pop effervescence of “Whirlwind in D Minor” and the Nick Drake-like folk finesse of “The Pristine Claw.” On first encounter, the juxtaposition of mood and melody may appear oddly uncommon, a mutation of Harcourt’s atmospheric MO. Still, skeptics’ fears will likely be quickly allayed; the compelling choruses of that accompany “Revolution in the Heart” and the aforementioned “Whirlwind in D Minor” affirm the fact that at the core of Harcourt’s musings, there are solid melodic conceits begging repeated hearings.

Harcourt’s clearly got a bright future ahead of him, given all he’s accomplished up to now. And with the recent Stateside resurgence of troubled troubadours like Conor Oberst and M. Ward, there’s no reason Harcourt can’t get his due over here as well. So while the Beautiful Lie bearsa moniker thatmay infer a disingenuous stance, there’s no need for concern. The spectral desire that wells up from within makes this set one that’s both captivating and compelling.

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