Harcourt proves he’s a singer of uncommon charm on this fifth album.
James Skinner 2010
On Ed Harcourt’s MySpace page he states that he’s “been kicking around for a while now,” and he’s not exaggerating: it is nearly 10 years since he arrived as a solo artist with the Maplewood EP, which he followed up with impressive debut album Here Be Monsters. Having parted company with Heavenly/EMI, fifth album Lustre is released via his own Piano Wolf imprint, and encapsulates a lot of what Harcourt is about, for better or worse.
But first: the title-track. Opening the record decisively, it ranks up there with his best – a slow-burning, free-associative number in which he contemplates universality, or more specifically, the universality of beauty. Its ranging lyrical sweep sees him fire out some lovely observations, possibly even addressing his younger self in parts. When Harcourt is on song, the results are that intuitive and instantly familiar it’s as if you’ve been humming them for years, and so it is here.
Lustre’s front end is of a similarly high quality, tunes like Haywired and Do as I Say Not as I Do augmenting his ivories with handclaps, harmonies and electronic flourishes. Heart of a Wolf is a playful lupine romp that sees him possibly indulge his Waits-ian predilection a little too wholeheartedly, but the whole thing is such fun – particularly the ridiculous (and I mean that in a good way) central riff – that it is impossible to bear him any ill will. Church of No Religion is good, too: a spooky run through end-of-the-world fantasies and religious imagery buoyed by a pulsing, insistent drum line.
Trouble is, aside from a few winning moments (Lachrymosity is a sweet, self-aware ballad) Lustre really sags in its second half, where it’s almost like the idea of the songs becomes more important than the songs themselves. A Secret Society is one of the loudest things on here but it never really convinces, while the rest could reasonably be described as epic (and I don’t mean that in a good way).
Nevertheless, Harcourt is a singer of uncommon charm, and Lustre is a welcome reminder that when he’s on top of his game – which he is for roughly half the record – you’ll want for little else.