Ed Harcourt: Here Be Monsters

Ed Harcourt
Here Be Monsters

Just who do these newfangled Britpop stars think they are, anyhow? Jeff Buckley, that's who. Although Brit-poppers throughout the ages have traditionally looked to their own kind for influence, British rocker Ed Harcourt has seemingly found his idol in the form of the late American singer-songwriter.

Why Buckley? Perhaps his soft but forceful delivery spurred certain sensitive lads toward the sincerest form of flattery. Travis, Coldplay, and Starsailor have all trotted out albums brimming with Buckley-style acoustic introspection. (Badly Drawn Boy has, too, although he's also known for the occasional Springsteen-style rock ballad.) And like his countrymen, Ed Harcourt has tenderly tickled the ivories and thrummed his sad, Buckleyesque songs to the delight of the judges from Britain's coveted Mercury Prize. (Here Be Monsters, released in the U.K. in 2001, was nominated last year.)

Here Be Monsters offers as much biting wit, dramatic melody, and falsetto as any of the albums from Harcourt's peers. But rather than stick to the slow-eyed strumming and vox that have so moved the scrappy tykes in Coldplay and Starsailor, Harcourt tempers the drama and creates a mood all his own. After all, Buckley's Grace isn't all sap and soaring vocals: There's a sense of adventure. Harcourt's cha-cha-charged opener, "Something in My Eye," and the weird industrial clanging of "Beneath the Heart of Darkness," demonstrate his versatility. He slides horn blasts into the otherwise sinister "God Protect Your Soul."

Still, Harcourt is also a fine balladeer. The album's best tunes just happen to be its most tender ones. The spry "She Fell Into My Arms" and fragile-as-glass "Wind Through the Trees" soothe like lemony lozenges sliding down a sore throat. Chimes, harmonies, and strings are effectively woven throughout.

After taking in Here Be Monsters a couple of times--and the album is worth repeated listening--one still wonders: How many more Buckley disciples from across the pond does the world need? The answer is lots of them--provided they produce songs with the intelligence and grace shown by Harcourt.

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