Ed Harcourt is a cult favorite as enduring as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Tom Waits. The Brit's overlooked, genre-bending debut, 2001's Here Be Monsters, drew comparisons to Waits's theatrical storytelling and the over-the-top orchestration of Rufus Wainwright, but was largely ignored by the U.S. mainstream. On Sphere, Harcourt tones down his penchant for stylistic overload -- Monsters covered jazz, Broadway, quirky power pop, and chamber music, for starters -- and in the process made a much more mature and cohesive record.
Harcourt comes out with pianos blazing on the ballad "Bittersweetheart," a gooey tune with sighing harmonies and the soft glow of 1970s pop radio, while flashes of strings and horns augment the mournful chords trudging through "Sister Renee" and "Bleed a River Deep." With bold musical sass elsewhere, Harcourt struts with a radiant confidence that separates him from countless other moody, love-obsessed saps. "Ghostwriter" pulses with creepy jags of electric guitar; the uplifting "Watching the Sun Come Up" is a vocal and musical doppelgänger of David Bowie's "Heroes." Pristinely crafted and intelligently wrought, Sphere is another offering that won't win Harcourt any spins on Top 40 radio, but for his gentle rock, in some parallel universe he deserves to be king.
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