Monday, July 31, 2006

dynamic duo

richard buckner & jon langford - 'sir dark invader vs. the fanglord'

released: may 31, 2005
running time: 30'43"
buried treasure

songs: 1. rolling of the eyes 2. nothing to show 3. sweet anybody 4. from attic to basement 5. torn apart 6. stayed 7. the inca princess 8. no tears tonight 9. do you wanna go somewhere?

This record could not have been released on a better titled label for it than Buried Treasure Records. This collaboration is indeed a treasure, and one that could have easily remained buried, having been shelved for almost three years before its release. A treasure, mostly because of its uniqueness and improbability. You'd be hard pushed to find less likely indie musicians to hook up and make a record than introspective Richard Buckner (the dark invader, in case you were wondering) and expansive Jon Langford (yes, the fanglord), well known for his work in punk pioneers The Mekons and in country-punks Waco Brothers. Yet hook up they did, in a Chicago apartment where they hung out together for a week in 2002 and came up with these nine songs.

It all seems to indicate a disjointed effort, and it is, in a way, but not in a bad way. You have back-to-back songs like 'Rolling Of The Eyes', a catchy, lively rocker, and 'Nothing To Show', a rather mournful lament of emptiness, that somehow seem to fit together perfectly. This happens because, unlike what could be expected (and what they jokingly try to make you expect with the confrontational title and cover), it's not rocker Jon doing the uptempo ones and alt-country gloomer Richard doing the slow ones. The pair trade vocal harmonies and instrumentation (not to mention lyrics and writing duties as well) seemingly at will, and they end up sounding like old collaborators who know each other inside out. That's talent for you.

The best thing about this record is the various levels on which it might be taken. On a more superficial level, with that silly cover (and whole booklet artwork) and the more upbeat songs like 'The Inca Princess' and 'Torn Apart', you have a cool collection of songs that you can play, say, while you drive, and have good fun with. Look deeper though, and you'll find real depth to the songs and the lyrics, along with a very truthful world-weariness in lines like nothing to show for the things that i've done / there were places to go and i had to choose this one / i had some dreams in my head, had some tricks up my sleeve / but i'll be lucky to leave with my life, which opens the aforementioned 'Nothing To Show'. This kind of hurt sincerity is also very present in the way the album ends, with the beautiful 'Do You Wanna Go Somewhere?' apparently being left halfway through, both men stopping their instruments and leaving you hanging, wondering.

Since this is a very clear one-off, it's likely that we'll hang forever. At least, and unlike that lyric states, these guys really left something to show for what they did that week in Chicago.

the good: surprisingly good result for an unlikely pairing, authentic, lasting collection of songs spanning several moods
the bad: understandably not as cohesive as each man's individual work, a one-off we'll probably won't hear again

Saturday, July 29, 2006

finnish soul

amorphis - 'eclipse'

released: february 20, 2006
running time: 45'28"
nuclear blast

songs: 1. two moons 2. house of sleep 3. leaves scar 4. born from fire 5. under a soil and black stone 6. perkele (the god of fire) 7. the smoke 8. same flesh 9. brother moon 10. empty opening 11. stone woman

'Eclipse' only clicked totally for me when I watched Amorphis performing live at this year's tuska festival. On one hand, hearing these new songs effortlessly rub shoulders with the older classics and, on the other hand, witnessing the surprising confidence of new frontman Tomi Joutsen in tackling songs from every period of the band made me want to go home and listen to 'Eclipse' with doubled attention.

It paid off - 'Eclipse' is one of those records that demands a little extra attention, especially if you're already a fan of the band. Even if Joutsen's vocals aren't a million miles away from former vocalist Pasi Koskinen (who, incidentally, is now focusing solely on Ajattara, highly recommended for fans of black metal), they do take a bit of getting used to, as they are more gruff and dense. Joutsen is more versatile, though - his voice reshapes itself all over the songs looking for the best fit to the compositions, with general success. There are hints of both Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost) and Kjetil Nordhus (Green Carnation).

The songwriting is equally very good. After two not really bad but slightly disappointing records ('Am Universum' and 'Far From The Sun'), you could look at 'Eclipse' as the proverbial return to form for these Finns. Not to say that this has much to do with their early death metal days, but it's a modernized halfway point between 'Elegy' and 'Tuonela'. I classified Tomi Joutsen's vocals as 'dense' up there, and the same can be applied to the overall feel of the album's sound. The strong rhythm section lays a strong foundation for the guitar melodies to flourish, and flourish they do - check out the incredibly addictive riff from 'Brother Moon' or the already live classic 'House Of Sleep' as perfect examples. The keyboard arrangements are equally well done, and very important in the atmospheres created by each song. Thematically, they once again dig into the rich world of Finnish folk lore. 'Eclipse' is a concept album of sorts, based on a tale from the Kalevala, called Kullervo's story, which i urge you to find out more about.

If a criticism has to be made, it could be the fact that the record lacks a true centerpiece. A storytelling effort such as this could benefit from an 'epic' song that would constitute the core of the song allignment. But that's mostly nitpicking. 'Eclipse' is the best Amorphis album in many years, probably since 'Elegy', and it sounds fresh, exciting and like a whole new beginning for an already historical band. The final verdict isn't higher simply because I'm still expecting them to improve more and more on this promising effort.

the good: impressive new vocalist, strong songwriting, gripping lyrical concept
the bad: lacks a true centerpiece song, important in a storytelling kind of record

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

allez la france!

les sans culottes - 'fixation orale'

released: may 18, 2004
aeronaut records

suggested for review by 'the queen of everything'

songs: 1. toxico 2. allô allô 3. garçon culotté 4. tout va bien 5. train à grande vitesse 6. li kantu 7. téléphone douche 8. ménage à toi 9. la radio 10. poupée de cire 11. deux boules de glace 12. voyage au bout de l'ennui

Les Sans Culottes play boppy, raunchy, 60s yeh-yeh-influenced pop-rock songs in French (apart from a song in, erm, Esperanto), with such profound themes as ice cream. Oh, and they're from new york.

Are you scared? You shouldn't be. The faux-french bop of these crazy Americans (apart from the one genuinely French member, singer Celine Dijon) is actually quite compelling, and taken on a purely musical level, they're a sort of mix of the B-52's and bits of Le Tigre with Serge Gainsbourg, whose hit 'Poupée de Cire' is very amusingly covered here.

There's much more to them than that, though. one you get past the joke-band idea, you'll find they have proper songs to back all the craziness up, with plenty of variety to keep things interesting. 'Toxico' is one of the rockier songs, 'allô allô' showcases one of their main strengths, the male-female vocal duets, 'Tout Va Bien' is a dreamy ballad with swirling keyboards and harpsichord, while the singalong of that Esperanto song, 'Li Kantu', will glue itself to your brain for days.

Sure, it's all very camp and not very meaningful, but that's more or less the point. The childlike vitality of the melodies, a sort of The Magnetic Fields on prozac, will work like a charm whenever you play this for friends. If only for the conversation-piece effect of the quirky lyrics.
I won't even mention the possibilities of 'Ménage à Toi', but it's not every day that you can engage someone in conversation at a party with the line 'so do you know what a téléphone douche is?'.

the good: a silly bout of great faux-french fun with wonderfully witty lyrics and proper songs to back it up
the bad: will be too camp for some, the joke-band tag might be hard to dispel when trying to take their music seriously

Monday, July 24, 2006

sing your sorrows

william elliott whitmore - 'ashes to dust'

released: february 22, 2005
running time: 31'39"
regain records

songs: 1. midnight 2. the day the end finally came 3. when push comes to love 4. diggin' my grave 5. the buzzards won't cry 6. sorest of eyes 7. lift my jug (song for hub cale) 8. gravel road 9. porchlight

When you're up to your neck in shit, the only thing left to do is sing - this Samuel Beckett quotation is the only verbal cue you get from the black booklet, but it could not have been more accurate. William Elliott Whitmore's tales of death, love, loss and woe feature protagonists who really have got nothing left but to sing.

Whitmore's gravely voice, a sort of cross between Tom Waits and the oldest, coarsest country singers you can think of, cuts right through to the heart of rural America again with his second album. His style hasn't changed much since 'Hymns For The Hopeless', which is a good thing, for William is a rather unique musical presence and his simple, banjo-strumming approach to songwriting is perfect to the aura that his records carry. It's hard to think of another musician this stripped of any frills, going straight to the (broken) heart of the matter, and it's also hard to listen to this without conjuring the image of the mourning man sitting on his porch at sundown with a guitar and an old dog as his only companions. Will is only 27, but he sounds like he's coming from 100 years ago, yet none of these songs sound like a mere rehashing of popular music.

Among all the sadness, there's even a bit of Mississippi blues with 'Lift My Jug (Song For Hub Cale)' to undarken (lighten would be way too much, and besides, the lyrics of this song are as sad as the rest) the way halfway through, as well as a lovely waltz with 'Sorest Of Eyes'. Still on songs, allow me to say that if you don't feel anything the first time you listen to closer 'Porchlight', then you probably don't feel much else. Besides neatly summing up the essence of Will's songs, it's one of those that wrap themselves around your heart and just won't let go. At the same time a lament but also (and essentially) a thank you for the good things at the end of a difficult life, it contains the whole life-work-love-death cycle that I like to think defines humanity in the best way. It has made me cry several times already, I am sufficiently shamed to admit. To add to its emotional weight (as if any more was needed), the song is apparently the story of William's own father, whose last request was precisely the one made in the song.

My last request in this review would be that you don't miss this record, the previous one, and also keep an eye out for the soon to be released third one, 'Song Of The Blackbird'.

the good: profoundly human - the major issues of death and love are simply sung, stripped of every pretence
the bad: no major changes in style throughout the record

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

satan's work

gorgoroth - 'ad majorem sathanas gloriam'

released: june 26, 2006
running time: 31'39"
regain records

songs: 1. wound upon wound 2. carving a giant 3. god seed (twilight of the idols) 4. sign of an open eye 5. white seed 6. exit 7. untamed forces 8. prosperity and beauty

As of late, Gorgoroth may have been attracting more headlines for vocalist Gaahl's tribulations with justice, but that should not overshadow the importance of the Norwegian band's new album. Despite a long career already, Gorgoroth have usually been looked at as part of a second tier of black metal bands by most genre fans (me included, I admit), and even excellent albums like 'Pentagram' haven't done much to give them the full notoriety many feel they deserve. However, with this new record, probably their best so far, things are bound to change.

The final piece in the Gorgoroth puzzle might have been the hiring of Frost from Satyricon and touring partners 1349 for drum duties. The man's relentless battery would make every band step up a notch of quality, and when it's a band already very well stocked in that department like Gorgoroth, the result is what we can hear on 'Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam'. More than the constant intensity, what impresses more about the record is the overpowering feeling of eerie malice, for which Gaahl's inhuman vocals contribute decisively. Much like 1349's latest, 'Hellfire', it represents the true face of current black metal - it's not music that you can easily dismiss as childish or cartoonish like you would some of the more popular bands associated with the genre.

The musical balance is very good - from the oppressive 'Carving A Giant' to the full speed ahead of 'God Seed', the quality and variety of the songwriting assures that the songs don't fade into blandness. The band also understands that it's good to not drag out things, and in typical Gorgoroth fashion, it's all over after half an hour. In fact, for the atmospheres created in the album, that might even be too short, there's a nagging feeling of incompleteness when you start to really get into the record as a whole.

One of the quality black metal releases of the year.

the good: relentless, brutal and blasphemous - contemporary black metal as it should be
the bad: far too short - two or three songs more would have considerably enriched the album

Monday, July 17, 2006

labour of love

david poe - 'love is red'

released: june 21, 2005
running time: 34'38"
ulftone music

songs: 1. you're the bomb 2. so beautiful 3. love is red 4. wilderness 5. reunion 6. moon 7. settlement 8. you got a reputation 9. doxology 10. love won't last the afternoon

My attention was first drawn to david poe when I was fortunate enough to catch him opening up for a part of Ed Harcourt's (whose latest record I talked about here) European tour a couple of years ago. There he was, this sleepy-looking New Yorker, but surprisingly razor-sharp in his wit, with songs that instantly demanded the attention of an Ed Harcourt-centered crowd. The merchandise stall had the bold Ed Harcourt quote that 'Love Is Red' was 'the best album ever!'. I wouldn't go quite that far, but this record is undoubtedly a surprisingly fabulous one.

David on record is slightly different from his crazy stage persona. The emotion levels are much higher and there is not so much fooling about, although the sharpness of wit and his particular hint of dry sarcasm are present, be it in some bar-lounge moods or the inspired lyrics.

All through the jazzy labyrinth of the 'Love Is Red' songwriting there's that slightly decadent, urban cool mood of smoky late-night cafes you get from, say, Morphine or Tim Buckley (of whom there's a surprising cover of 'You Got A Reputation'). Poe's voice is at turns warmly seductive and coldly ironic and fits each song's mood like a glove. Emotionally, Poe can touch some deep nerves with his tales of usually failed relationships, whether in the I'm-sorry-I-don't-love-you of first single 'So Beautiful', the broken weariness of 'Love Won't Last The Afternoon' or the upbeat creepiness of 'Reunion'. These feelings are much augmented by two very important things: the lyrics, which are sharp, rich in good metaphors and charged with realism, and the production. Poe locked himself (and his band) in a bunker in Berlin to capture some of that desolate feeling, and that isolation worked like a charm. Some of these songs are re-recordings of songs from Poe's two first albums, but I prefer facing them as new, such is their new weight compared to the original versions.

'Love Is Red' is one of those rare records that you will play over and over again, still discovering little new touches way after you thought you'd memorized the whole songs. As far as singer-songwriters go these days, david poe is the real deal.

the good: a superb collection of ten brokenhearted but nevertheless uplifting songs that will remain with you long after the stop button is pressed
the bad: you'll wish that it went on past the 34 short minutes that it lasts

Sunday, July 16, 2006

a leap of faith

anathema - 'eternity'

released: september 2, 1996
running time: 57'57"
peaceville records

songs: 1. sentient 2. angelica 3. the beloved 4. eternity part i 5. eternity part ii 6. hope 7. suicide veil 8. radiance 9. far away 10. eternity part iii 11. cries on the wind 12. ascension

Since the follow-up to 2004's 'A Natural Disaster' is being written as I write, and it won't be too long until its release, it seems appropriate to look back on the career of these Liverpudlians and analyze one of their most important records.

'Eternity' is not such a landmark strictly because of its absolute quality. In fact, purely taken for what it is, it's one of the weakest of the whole Anathema discography, even if that is a particular battlefield where the competition is as fierce as they come. The importance of 'Eternity' can be measured instead in what it meant for the development of the band's sound and for what it allowed them to do afterwards. Before it, Anathema were quite safely pegged within the My Dying Bride/Paradise Lost/Anathema British doom thing of the mid-90s. This is by no means a bad position to be in, but after the departure of original vocalist Darren White, which allowed Vincent Cavanagh to assume lead vocals, it could be sensed that they wanted to go further than that. 'The Silent Enigma' was still very much a doom record (and a brilliant one at that), but 'Eternity' is where it all changed.

If you are a Pink Floyd fan, you will immediately detect what was the main inspiration behind this record. Even if you're not, but have heard them at some point, it is still quite obvious. Anathema themselves made no secret of this, boldly covering 'Hope' halfway through the album, a cover which constitutes the centerpiece of 'Eternity' - the intensity seems to rise until then, only to drop proportionally after it. This Pink-Floyd-as-a-sort-of-metal-band approach caused a slight bit of concern to some fans at the time, because it could easily be interpreted as a) lack of fresh ideas and/or b) wanting to move away from the metal scene. You will agree that none of these are considered particularly promising. It's almost heresy to think of the former worry withing the current Anathema context, while the latter did happen, but with caution and not as drastically as one might have thought. Just listen to 'Pulled Under At 2000 Meters A Second' from 'A Natural Disaster'. With ten years and four subsequent records (all of the highest quality, one might add) of hindsight, 'Eternity' makes perfect sense.

Sure, Vinnie's vocals are quite forced at times, it's evident that he was still in an early development phase as a vocalist. Compare this with his stellar performance on 'A Natural Disaster' to have a full perception of how far the man has come. Also, apart from the inspiring instrumental closer, 'Ascension', most of those songs after 'Hope' are rather disposable. On the other hand, you've got beautiful displays of emotion such as 'Angelica' and the classy 'Eternity part II' which segues nicely into the cover. But above all, 'Eternity' is the sound of a band breaking free from any kind of musical shackles, free and clean to pursue their true inspiration afterwards, which, as history proved, they did. 'Comfortably Numb' still closes most of their live sets, but in the ten years between this record and now, they have blossomed into their own entity, one of the most creative and essential bands regardless of musical genres.

the good: a breakthrough that allowed anathema to become one of the most essential bands in the world, some truly beautiful songs
the bad: too close to pink floyd for comfort, inappropriate vocals at times, a few fillers

Saturday, July 15, 2006

back in the game

stratovarius - 'stratovarius'
released: august 31, 1005
running time: 49'21"
mayan records

songs: 1. maniac dance 2. fight!!! 3. just carry on 4. back to madness 5. gypsy in me 6.götterdämmerung (zenith of power) 7. the land of ice and snow 8. leave the tribe 9. united

There would have been much better Stratovarius records to inaugurate the Finnish band's presence on this blog, their masterpiece 'Visions' for example, but I chose this one because it represents a sort of coming back from the dark, after all the personal turmoil that took place, mainly with guitarist Timo Tolkki.

It’s therefore not easy to take this record solely for what it is, after the rollercoaster of events that preceded it, with wild accusations between the two main men, Tolkki and Kotipelto, impossible-to-understand member changes, surreal happenings with Tolkki, the lot. At one point, it was highly unlikely that another Stratovarius record would ever even exist. However, with Timo Tolkki’s mental health problem fortunately behind him (all credit to the man for explaining what happened openly), it is now time to confront the expectations, which should be mixed. On one hand, all the die-hard fans are surely anxious for the band’s rebirth, on the other hand, there are also many who expect the band to fall flat on its face after all that has happened. The final result is also a mixed bag.

To evaluate it simply and quickly, it is not even in the same galaxy as 'Visions'. However, 'Stratovarius' does have some merits to stand on. The simplicity of the compositions is the most promising, gone is some of the unnecessary bombast and keyboard-dependence that plagued their later releases. The overall mood of the album is one of sobriety and even low-profile. It might be argued if low-profile is a good thing in a Stratovarius album, but relax, you’re not in for a doom record either. The trademark 'happy' arrangements are very much present throughout. the problem is that they never really ignite like before. Apart from the excellent 'Gypsy In Me', one would be hard pressed to come up with more highlights than that song. While nothing on the record is embarrassing, nothing makes you stand up and air-guitar either.

The fact that the last song is called 'United' leaves us with a good sign, though. Let us then hope for this to be a new beginning, from which better and brighter things might arise.

the good: they're back and they've cleared a very difficult hurdle with an album that won't embarrass
the bad: some songs are quite passable, overall it's not in the same league as the rest of their career

Friday, July 14, 2006

a cry from the past

omen - 'battle cry'
released: 1984
running time: 36'37"
metal blade

songs: 1. death rider 2. the axeman 3. last rites 4. dragon's breath 5. be my wench 6.battle cry 7. die by the blade 8. prince of darkness 9. bring out the beast 10. in the arena

Time for some classic heavy metal! Quite frankly, you don't get any more classic than omen, who are, strangely enough, one of the severely overlooked bands of the genre's richest period. Over time, they have become a sort of a cult thing, name-dropped by every connoisseur worth his salt, and for a reason. The main problem with Omen is that they never really took off after this great debut. The sophomore record, 'Warning Of Danger', was still quite interesting, but the following records of their career (which included an 8 year hiatus in the 90s) have been less than essential. So what makes 'Battle Cry' so special? And whatever it is, does it still hold 22 years after its original release?

These questions are actually quite simple, no need for elaborate reviewerspeak here. What's special about it is simply good songwriting. Ignoring the silly spoken word that introduces 'The Axeman', you could think of a subtle Manowar, if those two words in the same phrase don't make your head hurt too much. In an age of over-the-topness, Omen cleverly avoided all the unnecessary excesses of other contemporaries. Taking the basic Iron Maiden template, these 10 songs throttle along, mostly mid-paced, building up memorable choruses, agile guitar leads and compelling charges. 'Death Rider' is a good opener, setting the tone for the rest of the 36 minutes, which include other highlights such as the title track with its heavy bass intro and the rousing storytelling of 'In The Arena'. It doesn't take big fancy orchestras to be epic, that terribly overused word nowadays, it just takes a good use of dynamics and powerful melodies. And, truth be told, a good vocalist. J.D.Kimball (who sadly passed away in 2003) deserves a mention for his brilliantly understated singing - at times gravely and rougher, at times crystal-clear, always strong and melodic, with no screaming histrionics or useless rock clichés, he would have deserved greater notoriety for his undisputable talent.

And yes, it still sounds great after 22 years. Sure, there's the traditional dragons/swords/wizards lyrics, but the aforementioned maturity of the songwriting is well complemented by a surprisingly good production that many a current band could use.

'Battle Cry' is not a bastion of originality and omen did not change the world, but they do deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the more illustrious classic heavy metal bands of the 80s.

the good: withstood the test of time through great songwriting and a memorable vocalist
the bad: rather unimaginative fantasy lyrics, doesn't push many originality boundaries

a sad day

jesu - 'jesu'

released: february 21, 2005
running time: 74'31"

songs: 1. your path to divinity 2. friends are evil 3. tired of me 4. we all faulter 5. walk on water 6.sun day 7. man/woman 8. guardian angel

Always a man with his fingers in many a pie, Justin Broadrick's musical output has ranged from grindcore (with his brief passage by Napalm Death in the 80s) to ambient electronics (Techno Animal) to hiphop (Ice) to remixing other people, not to mention of course the enormity of his work in his most known band, Godflesh, which he led for nearly 15 years.

It was therefore hard to guess which direction his new project, Jesu, would take, but Justin gladly made it very clear for everyone when he said that he wanted to make 'the saddest music possible'. Well, this is certainly a bold claim, and not an easy goal to achieve - god knows CD racks are full of people desperately wanting to sound miserable and ending up sounding like whiny teenagers. The debut EP 'Heartache' was certainly a step in the right direction, but it was with this first full length that Broadrick's vision took proper shape.

The scope of 'Jesu' is what impresses the most. The immediate comparison points might be the more hypnotic moments of the Swans or the more ambient Neurosis passages, but the true musical father of the record is Kevin Shields. the droning of the guitars, coupled with the frail, strained vocals are the closest thing anyone might ever get to the My Bloody Valentine sound, except it's much denser here. That density of sound is the only justified point of comparison to Godflesh, whose urban angst is otherwise miles away from the contemplative ambiance of 'Jesu'.

That elusive sadness objective is fully achieved in the album's best songs, 'Sun Day' and 'Tired Of Me', because Broadrick understands that one can only despair so much. These two songs in particular exhale such tired weariness that they are more efficient in the transmission of feelings than any kind of elaborate tragedy could ever be. The simple lyrics tell no tales, they are simply half-sentences, drowned in the overall thickness of sound, and the vocals themselves feel more like another instrument rather than regular vocals. A particular word to the great Ted Parsons, who followed Justin from Godflesh - his drawn-out, understated drumming is perfect for this sound.

After a few spins of the record, listen closer and you'll start to find very deep textures, be them little flourishes of keyboard or a different buzzing riff, as if they're little escapades of hope from the overbearing malaise. The overall mood is one of broken, desolate beauty, balanced with the odd ray of sunshine thrown in sometimes, heavy-going but extremely appealing nevertheless.

And this goes on for 74 minutes. This has always been a sort of trademark with Justin, but the fact is that the album could have had much more impact if it was a bit more trimmed down. As it is, it is just too much to bear for the duration and it's clearly not one of those records meant for everyone. Of course, being Justin, this is more or less the point.

the good: desperately sad but beautiful at the same time, one of the most emotionally intense records you can find
the bad: monotonous and very long, will take a while (and a particular mood) to fully appreciate

Thursday, July 13, 2006

a beautiful truth

ed harcourt - 'the beautiful lie'

released: june 5, 2006
running time: 54'33"
emi international

songs: 1. whirlwind in d minor 2. visit from the dead dog 3. you only call me when you're drunk 4. the last cigarette 5. shadowboxing 6. late night partner 7. revolution in the heart 8. until tomorrow then 9. scatterbraine 10. rain on the pretty ones 11. the pristine claw 12. i am the drug 13. braille 14. good friends are hard to find

Ed Harcourt has been a rather unusual presence within the singer/songwriter bunch for the duration of his recording career. His boyish irreverence is very present in his typically quirky songwriting, and the fans of his previous work probably would describe his music based on the catchy pop/rock full of feeling that has graced the songs of his consistently good four albums.

Well, 'The Beautiful Lie' is a little bit different. Even if the melancholy has always been there, it's more evident this time around due to the delicacy of most songs. 'The Beautiful Lie' has a much more intimate, personal feel to it than any of Ed's previous records. even if he hasn't abandoned his love for unusual instrumentation and the occasional creepy-carnivalesque moment ('Scatterbraine' and 'I Am The Drug' have Tom Waits written all over them), everything is much less cluttered, giving the melodies more room to shine. The immediate centerpiece of the album is the exuberant 'Revolution In The Heart', but given a few listens, it's the sadness of 'The Last Cigarette', the shameless drama of 'Until Tomorrow Then' and the candid beauty of 'Good Friends Are Hard To Find' that will make you come back to it again and again. Even the more orchestrated pieces like 'You Only Call Me When You're Drunk' are more elegant and sober than before. somehow this contrast between the darker moments and the more upbeat tunes like 'Visit From The Dead Dog' manages to keep a balance that prevents the record from falling into a melodramatic gloomfest. It might take a while for the longer standing fans especially to get used to this subtler side of ed, but it will be very worth it.

Tom Waits was not an innocent name-drop there. Much like Waits, Ed Harcourt's left-field approach to songwriting and his poignant, intelligent lyrics will probably never lead him to the chart-topping status he has been predicted for ever since the 'Maplewood' EP. But, lest we forget the man is a mere 28 years of age, the development of his gigantic musical potential will keep everyone who has been touched by his songs very happy.

the good: elegant, stylish and perfectly balanced - a quiet triumph
the bad: harder to get into than before, might put off less patient listeners