English singer songwriter and the son of a diplomat, Ed Harcourt has been releasing solo records since the year 2000, and with ‘Furnaces’ he releases perhaps his most fully realised album yet. Operating outside of the mainstream Harcourt has developed without commercial restrictions and has a loyal following, his music has been getting harder edged over the years and whilst this Flood produced cracker may not soundtrack the balmy summer days on national radio it demands your attention.
Mostly performed by Ed alone with some contributions from other musicians the album is one of those that opens with a short vocally assisted essentially instrumental piece, ‘Intro’. It’s elegiac. And soothing, a contrast to much of what is to follow. ‘The World Is on Fire’ sets the scene for what follows. The drums boom in underpinning echoed brooding vocals, fiery destruction, hopelessness, grim prophecy, the cold that follows the fiery destruction and perspective about our place in the scheme of things. A floaty icy synth props up the track, as fire and ice settle in as another theme. Ed as always had a way with a sweet pop melody and cosy love song, and that trait seems a million miles away from where he is now. ‘Loup Garou’ is a more guitar and percussion driven song follows and mythical themes are woven into Ed’s mindset (the Loup Garou is a French legend of a shape shifting human who is able to turn into a wolf at will). It’s a powerful, foreboding melodious track, classic heavy Ed Harcourt. Title track ‘Furnaces’ is a brass pinned driving on the beat rock track, the sound is cluttered, creating a sense of unease, even panic, a hymn to the destruction that big business brings to the natural world.
‘Occupational Hazard’ sees Ed hovering, almost victoriously over the destruction he leaves in the path of his life whilst warning potential victims to keep away. It’s uncannily like a classic turn of the century Depeche Mode track, and sparkles with it too. ‘Nothing But A Bad Trip’ is an obvious ‘English Tom Waits’ moment that has littered Ed’s career, a comparison that is unfair to both of these inspirational individual artists. ‘Opened my mouth, The scream that came out was not even human, Got back on the horse, Rode away for a fix of destruction’ is the albums lyrical content boiled down to a hard core. Some comfort is offered in ‘You Give Me More Than Love’, as a lover is revered as a saviour who lines the path to better days with Augustan poetry. Yet the song is not wrapped in sugary sentiment in the way Ed has done with his sweetest love songs in the past, there’s still a heaviness, a danger present. ‘Dionysus’ describes battles with the demon alchohol, ‘Poor Dionysus, You drank yourself under the table again’ is a clever lyrical play linking Greek Mythology (essentially the God of Wine) with modern day drinking issues. The song has a soft piano melody that gets swept up but a thundery percussive orchestral swell as the battle is essentially depicted as hopeless.
‘There Is a Light Below’ is an odd upbeat song living above an almost drum and bass beat, with wonderful multi tracked vocals, but the mood is still not victorious, defiant maybe, but domineering and threatening. ‘The Last of Your Kind’ crashes in on a joyful melody, a modern Britpop anthem, and sings of hope in the moments before the end of the world as the last good man is left standing. Is Ed a Corbyn supporter? ‘Immoral’ though reduces hope from a personal level. ‘I will break your spirit’ I will break your heart, Put it back together, Then slowly pull it apart’ is offered as final solution, ‘Got a blind date with my death, I’m not a good man, who abides by virtue’ is the sort of fayre on offer here. It’s a great track, but short on relief. The album end with ‘Antartica’ as the singer retreats to the barren wasteland of ice in order to escape the misery and destruction of the world that pains him so. It is a call for the good, a new beginning, albeit one where withdrawing from the world into a desert of ice is the most promising solution on offer to the worlds maladies.
So this a heavy album, weighty at every turn, cramped with pain and fear. It’s also intricate, extremely well planned out, a crystal vision, a carer high point. Here’s hoping Ed Harcourt is making music for us for a much longer time to come. (Also out soon is Ed’s second collaboration with Sophie Ellis Bettor on her second post-modern LP.)