Ed Harcourt

Strangers (Astralwerks)

SXSW Records

Ed Harcourt

Strangers (Astralwerks)

Over the years, Ed Harcourt has gone from dreamy-drippy piano songs about love lost to the semisuccessful experimentation of 2003's From Every Sphere to this, his third effort, which suggests that he's finally coming into his own, albeit gradually and grudgingly. Strangers opens with a sonic boom in "The Storm Is Coming." It's bombastic, unexpected, and full of promise for the album as a whole, but Harcourt then drops the ball by dipping into an ill-advised homage to Seventies soft rock. He returns briefly to the energy of the opener with "Let Love Not Weigh Me Down," and then toddles off for more inconsistency. It isn't until late in the album that Harcourt hits his stride. "The Music Box" is beautiful and quietly baroque, and feels emotionally authentic. "Open Book" is one of the most striking songs present, about a broken love affair and a lover at the bottom of a bottle. It's simply crushing when he sings, "And I am still an open book and you can have a secret look inside." It's during songs like these that Harcourt seems the most comfortable, at ease with what he's created. If only he would retain the emotional and creative momentum of pieces like this, his albums would be much more solid, successful collections. (Saturday, March 19, 10:30pm @ Antone's)

**.5

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