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Here Be Monsters
Harcourt’s debut album sees him grappling with the weight of his own (huge) ambition and, for the most part, coming out on top
John Walshe, 21 Jun 2001
Fair play to young Ed Harcourt. Feted like so many before him as Britain’s Next Big Thing, he refuses to bow to the pressures such a meaningless tag can exert. Instead of trying to match critical expectations, Harcourt’s debut album sees him grappling with the weight of his own (huge) ambition and, for the most part, coming out
There’s the ponderously pleasing opening gambit, ‘Something In My Eye’, all lolling wordplay and under-stated guitar swathes, fleshed out with some beautiful vibrato strings that linger long in the melody.
Then we have the almost ominous opening bars of ‘God Protect Your Soul’, Harcourt’s ivory-hammering deflecting attention somewhat from his Jeff Buckley-isms, before they are joined by a series of brightly brash brass flashes, as young Mr Ed searches for a retreat from the spotlight which is soon bound to pursue his every move: “I need to build a wall around me”.
In contrast, ‘She Fell Into My Arms’ can only be described as jaunty, harking back to such almost-rans as Kingmaker and Gene in its lyrical dexterity. This Ed does not want to be lumbered in with the fey, foppish brigade though, as he sings on ‘Apple Of My Eye’: “I’m sick of this angst”. As if to prove it, ‘Those Crimson Tears’ is a beautifully melancholy ballad, which may border on maudlin but steers well clear of mawkish.
‘Wind Through The Trees’ is a beautiful and delicate creature, at its heart a paper-thin fragility that feels as transient as goosebumps, while ‘Shanghai’ is more of a muscular guitar-driven beast. ‘Birds Fly Backwards’, though, is probably the most almost-perfect example of what Ed Harcourt is all about: melody, lyrics and arrangement perfectly complementing each other in a totally arresting three and a half minutes.
In fact, Harcourt’s only real faux-pas is the overblown ‘Beneath The Heart Of Darkness’, which falters under the weight of its aspirations.
That aside, Here Be Monsters is a wonderfully ambitious album from a man who has the potential to be a true maverick in years to come. “You know that I have a perfect plan,” he sings on the closing ‘Like Only Lovers Can’, and I for one hope it comes to fruition.