Ed Harcourt - Until Tomorrow Then (The Best Of...)
Britain gets it very, very, wrong with singer-songwriters. Almost all the time. Deathly dull strummers like David Gray, James Morrison, the grand high wizard himself James Blunt, and others are free to roam our streets, peddling their wares to millions. Yet those who don’t fit that template, one which can be traced all the way back to James Taylor and Jackson Browne, seem unable to gain the same commercial success, despite the fact that their music is almost always, by very definition, far superior. Ben Christophers, for example, whose ‘Spoonface’ and, particularly, ‘The Spaces In Between’ are records of a skewed beauty that has been matched by few others in the past decade or so. It’s the same story with Malcom Middleton or Tom McRae, and also with the man whose best-of is up for review today, Ed Harcourt. Whilst I can at least hypothesise, if not understand, how McRae’s anger, Middleton’s maudlin tendencies and Christophers’ general oddness could have dissuaded the record buying public from giving any of them a hit record on the scale of Blunt’s ‘Back to Bedlam’ or Gray’s ‘White Ladder,’ on listening to ‘Until Tomorrow Then’, Harcourt’s retrospective which comes out on October the 15th, I genuinely can’t perceive what quirkiness or inaccessibility could have prevented ‘Born in the 70s’ or ‘She Fell Into My Arms’, or several other tracks contained herein, for that matter, from becoming out-and-out monster hits.
Maybe we’ve never known quite where to place Harcourt as an artist. Rufus Wainwright’s a reasonable reference point, as a writer of lyrically rich, complex, literate, adult pop. Yet Harcourt’s work is mercifully devoid of the sickly, embarrassing excesses of Loudon’s lad’s oeuvre, and nothing on ‘Until Tomorrow Then,’ or, for that matter, the studio albums from which these tracks have been culled, is victim of the kind of punch-the-clock blandness in which Wainwright’s last effort, the insipid and inspiring ‘Release the Stars’ was mired. Yet that record made #2 in the UK charts. Why, then, isn’t Harcourt, a man who can be accessible without being boring, who can be earnest and yet still entertain, who takes his craft seriously, but not so seriously as to lose his sense of humour, a huge star?
I really don’t know. I don’t know who the average British record buyer is, but I’d like to meet him/her. He/she has a lot to learn. All will be forgiven, however, if you all do as I say, and tear yourself away from the new Radiohead album to visit the establishment/emporium of your choice on Monday morning to pick up a copy of ‘Until Tomorrow Then.’ From the aforementioned opening salvo, consisting of the fragile ecstasy of ‘Born in the ‘70s’ and the horn-punctuated cabaret of ‘She Fell Into My Arms,’ all the way through ‘This One’s For You,’ the oddly life-affirming ‘Loneliness’, through to the beautiful closer ‘You Put A Spell on Me’, this is one of the finest best-of compilations I’ve heard in a long time. Indeed, I’d still be listening to it now, if it wasn’t for that Radiohead album…