Ed Harcourt

From Every Sphere (Astralwerks)

Singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt follows up his Mercury Music Prize-nominated debut, 2001's Here Be Monsters, with From Every Sphere, a dozen songs picked from sunniest of graveyards and gloomiest of birthdays. Comparisons have been drawn between this young (25) Harcourt and, among others, Tom Waits and Brian Wilson. Understandably so: On Sphere, his lyrics focus on Waits-worthy subjects (death, love, um, death), and the melodies strive for Wilson's headphone heaven, a dichotomy of somber subject and upbeat music that's present throughout the album. "Undertaker Strut," in fact, lacks only the gravel-and-asphalt stew of Waits' voice, and its title alone sums up his music's split personality.

There's plenty of evidence that Harcourt lives up to his reference points: "Bittersweetheart" impresses a melancholy upon the listener that lingers long after ("I've traveled around the earth/And still wonder if I'm the first human being/Who questions his worth," he sings, while the ghost of Nick Drake backs him up); "Bleed a River Deep" and "Sister Renee" underscore the deep penetrating weight of Harcourt's words; "Watching the Sun Come Up" takes a well-constructed cue from David Bowie's "Heroes" and improves upon it. There's also plenty of evidence that he doesn't: "Fireflies Take Flight" and "Metaphorically Yours" remind why you shouldn't shell out 30 bucks for an import when you know damn well you're gonna find a used promo copy at CD World in three months. And Sphere's closer and title track drones on for more than seven minutes, coming close to its heavenly name, but not quite. That said, it's a worthy sophomore effort, a disc that pokes and pricks at the quick of the soul, leaving the audience a bit bloodier and a little warmer.

 
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