Can an artist be too talented for his own good? Multi-instrumentalist, multi-headed musical hydra, singer/song-summoner Ed Harcourt begs the question on his fourth studio effort, Strangers. From the opening guitar squelch that soars and cuts into the lead-off track, "The Storm Is Coming," it's apparent that Harcourt is on a creative rage. He layers piano, guitars, and keyboards all the while crooning and wailing. Similarly, "Let Love Not Weigh Me Down" builds weeping violin and smashing guitars on top of plinky piano as Harcourt cries on about how being in love is to affirm all that is positive about being alive. He even gets around to updating the Police's "Born in the Fifties" with "Born in the '70s," a deceptively jaunty plea for older naysayers to give his generation a chance or get out of the way. The overall effect ends up sounding something like a reworking of "Under Pressure" featuring Ted Leo and Rufus Wainwright backed by the Flaming Lips. Needless to say, Harcourt's exploding arteries of emotion can get a bit tiring as he insists on building the volcano of tension track after track. However, just when you think it's about time to call "uncle," Harcourt lets go of your arm with tracks like "The Trapdoor," a Nick Drake meets Neil Young-style harvest moon of a song that sinks into your gut. Despite being a crack melodicist with a knack for a catchy lyric and an iconoclast's taste for oddly disparate but somehow fitting musical influences that range from Chet Baker and Todd Rundgren to Sonic Youth and Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Harcourt isn't a household name. Occupying the same deeply harmonic and beatifically sanguine post-Radiohead space in the music scene as similarly inclined cult figures Andrew Bird and Eric Matthews, Harcourt seems the most obvious graduate of the post-rock class to succeed in a Badly Drawn Boy cum Prince kind of way. So, why hasn't it happened yet? Maybe it's because Strangers finds Harcourt in the uncomfortably enviable position of being something along the lines of a thinking man's Chris Martin, which is to say, Strangers is a devastatingly accomplished album.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar