Piano Wolf Recordings
By Scott Roberts
“It’s not easy to be happy and get way with it,” sings Ed Harcourt on “Haywired,” the second song on his winning new CD Lustre, but somehow he seems to have found a way to do both. On his fifth full-length release, and the first on his own label, Harcourt makes no qualms about his buoyant — though possibly guarded — mood. From the family portrait of his wife and baby daughter on the cover that suggests both strength and a certain loneliness in togetherness, to the pop-timistic music found throughout the disc, Lustre is a beautifully realized work that may be Harcourt’s best yet.
The title cut and album opener is basically a list of things to be thankful for in the face of adversity and sets the tone both musically and lyrically for the songs to follow. Harcourt has always been slightly sunnier than most of the artists used for comparison (Nick Cave, Tom Waits), but this time around, he seems to have nearly fully embraced his inner Brian Wilson. With a voice that can be as forceful as Bono’s (but somehow without the requisite arrogance) or as breathy as The Zombies’ Colin Blunstone, Harcourt conveys both his love of family as well as for classic chamber pop. From the odd showtune-like “Heart of A Wolf” to the elegiac “Killed By The Morning Sun,” each of Lustre’s eleven tunes is a carefully crafted mini-masterpiece. If this were 1974 rather than 2010, the potential for radio hits would be Thriller-like.
“Please don’t break me from this spell/I’ve found a little bit of heaven in this world of hell.” Ed Harcourt pleadingly sings these words over the infectious piano-driven melody of the aforementioned “Haywired” and anyone who appreciate beautifully crafted and executed pop music might well say the same thing about Lustre, a truly glorious piece of work and one of the finest releases of the year.
Ed Harcourt plays Variety Playhouse with James, September 22.