Ed Harcourt: Back into the Woods
There comes a time in everyone’s life when it’s time for reflection; time to escape the rat race and go back to basics. Usually, this time is spent at some desolate place, like a cabin in the woods or some far away beach on a desert island; somewhere one can fully recharge and shift their focus back to what’s really important.
English singer-songwriter, Ed Harcourt, seems to have done just that on his new record Back into the Woods. But instead of a cabin in the woods or a tropical beach resort, Harcourt went back to basics at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London. The nine songs were written in a month and recorded in just six hours.
The end result is melancholic, but utterly beautiful, in all its naked simplicity. There’s a piano, an electric guitar and his wife on the violin, but that is all Harcourt has taken with him to create this record. The use of dubbed vocals on a handful of tracks, and an organ beefing up the bare framework of the song ‘Brothers and Sisters’, is as frivolous as this album gets.
It seems Harcourt returning to basics has paved the way for some lyrical introspection, as well. “You’ve got the good bits from your mother and the bad parts from me” and “pay no heed to good advice” he sings to his daughter on ‘Hey Little Bruiser’. He serenades his wife on ‘Wandering Eye’ as he muses, “I remember when I first saw you/I couldn’t move I was paralysed,” and on ‘The Pretty Girls’ he states “I always feel like the monster in this fairy tale.”
In ‘The Cusp and the Wane’ the singer-songwriter tells us that Mozart died a pauper and that William Blake was ridiculed. “Let’s hear it for the underdog,” he sings – he might as well be singing about himself.
It’s always been a bit of a mystery how Jeff Buckley-esque singers and songwriters, such as Rufus Wainwright and Damien Rice, have managed to amass huge fan followings over the years, yet Harcourt still operates under the radar of the general music-loving audience.
It’s not like he hasn’t got the talent. Harcourt’s oeuvre is littered with brilliant compositions, most notably on the Mercury Prize nominated’ Here Be Monsters (2001), The Beautiful Lie (2006) and Lustre (2010). They can certainly compete with the musical accomplishments of the likes of Rice, Wainwright and even Buckley, yet somehow, until now, Harcourt has failed to get as much attention. And that’s a real shame.
So here’s a free tip if you’re into singer-songwriters (especially the aforementioned ones): do yourself a favour and buy not only Back into the Woods, but Harcourt’s entire seven album discography. You won’t regret it.