Do *you* know who Ed Harcourt is?
The boy in the beaten-up velvet jacket picks up his cup. "He's 30, newly and happily married, the son-in-law of an ocarina maker and the great-nephew of Elizabeth David ... he's an agnostic brought up Protestant with a Buddha necklace... a nervous ball of energy, a little black sheep." The boy takes a sip. "And he's a solo artist, a collaborator, a session musician, a part-time blues player and thrash metal band member ... a collector of weird instruments, and a musical whore." Ed Harcourt puts down his coffee and laughs.
Ed Harcourt is a bit raffish and gloriously hungover, but also the best company you could imagine over a fried breakfast in Soho on a warm Saturday morning. He's also hard-working, creative and sickeningly prolific. The Beautiful Lie, his fifth album in six years, in between outside projects with bands like Wild Boar and the Dead Thank Yous, is the latest in his line of inventive, adventurous records. And it's the best thing he's ever done.
At times it's an incredibly personal record, and at others it's subtly political. But the record's main thrust is about Ed falling in love with the idea of stories and inventing other characters and situations. Ed thinks of it as a return to the simplicity and elegance of Maplewood; the bulk of it recorded, like Maplewood was, on an eight-track in his grandmother's house in Sussex, on a piano made for her back in 1917, with the drums set up out in the hallway. The rest was done in East London's Toe Rag studios, where The White Stripes recorded Elephant. Graham Coxon was on hand to lend his guitar for a track and BJ Cole slid in with some mournful pedal steel. It's a record that Ed thinks of as being very homegrown, less in love with the Southern swampiness of Tom Waits and Sparklehorse, than with the romance of Southern England.
It's also a record that is thought of as Ed's first grown-up album. His potential to make a record like this has always been there, brooding beautifully through every song he's ever written. But with The Beautiful Lie, there's a certain alchemy at play. Maybe it's the weight of experience Ed's had, or the years he's spent crafting songs finally coming together to create something incredibly special. His new album is confident, expressive and moving, wide-eyed, big-hearted and hot-blooded, with a musical ambition that dazzles you. It's an album he's grown up with, and an album that wants you to grow with it.