In a music scene still crammed full of post-Jeff Buckley singer songwriters, Ed Harcourt has been criminally overlooked down the years, especially when you consider that he’s only released one album and one single which have hit the top 40 charts here in the UK. Having released a critically lauded debut in Here Be Monsters, with another six albums since released, including Furnaces, it’s probably fair to say that Harcourt would have liked a better return for his efforts on subsequent releases, but it seems that he’s never quite been flavour of the month since.
As Furnaces ably demonstrates, this is a great shame. It opens with the moody two-punch of “Intro” and “The World is on Fire” and then proceeds to lay out its case for exactly why Harcourt should have always enjoyed far more commercial success than he has. In a music scene in which Badly Drawn Boy, Elliott Smith and Ben Folds all have their vocal converts, it seems a shame that comparatively few people are aware of Harcourt’s output. His seventh album, Furnaces is a heady reminder of just how criminally overlooked Harcourt has been, as it majestically passes through introspective self-analysis, via immense sounding balladeering and some good old fashioned songwriting. With its rocking guitars, singalong chorus and stacked sound, “Loup Garou” in particular is one of those songs that would be a massive crowd pleaser at any open air festival you could mention, if only enough people were more familiar with Harcourt’s output.
It seems a huge oversight that Ed Harcourt is not celebrated as one of the more soulful voiced songwriters of recent times. Furnaces’ title track in particular finds Harcourt raging and passionate, and a highlight of his career. The album as whole seems to drip with drama, with “Nothing Like a Bad Trip” in particular sounding like it is being channeled directly from some sort of nightmare vision. Admittedly sometimes the vaguely tense and oppressive feel of the album does get a little too much to bare, with the first minute and a half of “You Give Me More Than Love” sounding particularly claustrophobic, and you may wish to step outside for a breath of cool air from time to time. Even when the album seems to provide a lighter moment to allow you to breathe, such as the first few moments of “Dionysus”, it is suddenly swamped by a dense wall of sound. It’s terribly effective, but can result in something of an exhausting listen. When you do eventually hit a more accessible songs like “There is a Light Below” and “Last of your Kind”, it comes as something of a relief.
Furnaces is an album on which the amount of time, energy and effort Harcourt has put into it is palpable, and it goes without saying he’s a master of his craft. While it may be an exhausting listen, it’s also worth every ounce of effort, and it’s an album which benefits from you revisiting it repeatedly.
Ed Harcourt has always been smart enough to not couple his career to any passing musical movements, something which has allowed him to be unaffected by the vagaries of fashion. If you’re a fan of post-Buckley songwriters, then his name may be one of those names that you’ve heard, but didn’t really know where to start with. Start here.