Ed Harcourt's accomplished fifth album Beautiful Lie is easily one of his most accessible and listenable efforts. Yes, the hallmarks of his tortured singer/songwriter status are still in place, as flagrant strings, grandiose arrangements, and rampant-but-quality peer-mimicry rule these 14 tracks. But even though his lyrics are sometimes overbearingly dark and too many vampire metaphors abound, the music and songwriting compare favorably to contemporary indie-centric, raspy-voiced artists like Beck, the Eels, Sparklehorse, and Tom Waits. Harcourt dabbles in many genres here, from acoustic folk to '70s style pop ballads to rootsy psychedelia to experimental lounge, all the while rooting the music's emotion in melodic piano. When he rocks out full-force on "Revolution in My Heart" and the carnival-esque "Scatterbrain," the fuzzy dynamics recall the Walkmen at their best. Those two tracks bookend the Mark Linkous-like "Until Tomorrow Then" which marries blues-styled singing with grainy, haunted samples suggestive of a gramophone. Harcourt's mastery of so many styles and his multi-instrumentalist talents might be what's made him a niche artist up to Beautiful Lie's release. With so much going on stylistically, it can be hard to grasp his albums as cohesive entities. It's a shame, but because of Harcourt's eclecticism, it's hard to pin him down as having a distinct sound. He's almost too talented. But Beautiful Lie is an invigorating and frequently gorgeous affair, essential for old fans and a good place to start for newcomers.
AllMusic Review by Tim DiGravina