“This is another song about the end of the world,” says music’s cheeriest misanthrope Ed Harcourt, while launching new album Furnaces at London’s Groucho Club. “Well, when Calvin Harris earns £60million a year, it might as well be the end of the world.”
Now seven albums into his career and with a prolific sideline in becoming ‘the songwriter’s songwriter’ after collaborating with everyone from Marianne Faithfull to The Libertines via Sophie-Ellis Bextor, Lissie and Paloma Faith, there really is no reason why the previously Mercury-nominated Harcourt’s acclaimed run of records and his sterling reputation haven’t rendered him as a household name.
Well, on Furnaces with superproducer Flood in tow to add more flesh to the bones, that time has come. Alas, it also just happens to coincide with the apocalypse.
“There’s an empty playground, and a bird on the swing has an eye for the departed - she loves a fallen king,” pines Harcourt on the cinematic painting of the dystopia that could bloom from the mushroom cloud if Trump gets his finger on the button with ‘The World Is On Fire’. With its opulent strings and rumbling undertones, it sets the aching elegiac tone for all that follows. But while Furnaces follows a core thread, it is as eclectic as it is complete.
‘Loup Garou’ is a beastly chunk of scorched desert rock, as Harcourt spits the tale of a man’s desires turning him into a hellhound, before the skyward howl of the title track laments the Earth being unsustainably plundered by fracking at the hands of Conservative rule – set to a soundtrack of horns marching us into the abyss.
‘Occupational Hazard’ meanwhile returns to Harcourt’s knack for being deviously playful with some of the darker shades of Tom Waits, before ‘Nothing But A Bad Trip’ recreates a decadently hungover waltz. ‘Dionysus’ tinkers with negative tension before erupting into a post-rock explosion where elements of Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and Smashing Pumpkins all crash together. This is the eye of the storm, and the centre of the magnum opus where Harcourt’s exquisite songwriting prowess is given space to breathe.
The slab of brimstone that comes in album highlight ‘Immoral’ is also as close as one can imagine to the feel of Satan licking your earlobe, but the record is not entirely one of darkness. While largely telling the story of the underworld coming to the surface, there must always be hope for one to remain human. That comes from the swooning ode to becoming a slave to devotion with ‘You Give Me More Than Love’ and the glorious arena-sized surge of life with ‘The Last Of Your Kind’; the breed of game-changing track that British Sea Power would kill to write.
While Calvin Harris continues to get rich making music for people who don’t like music, underdog Ed Harcourt reaches a career high with a record that puts him so many lightyears ahead of the majority. While we reference other artists to illustrate the sheer breadth of the sonic terrain covered, the truth is that this album shows Harcourt excelling on the fuel of the compulsion that comes from finally finding his true voice.
Singularly capturing the essence of humanity teetering on the edge but with a very real and human response, Furnaces is the album that 2016 needs; even if we don’t deserve it. If Furnaces isn’t hailed as a masterpiece at large, then I don’t want to live on this planet anymore. Come Armageddon, come.
- Ed Harcourt headlines London's Village Underground on Wednesday 21 September. For tickets and more information, visit here.