Ever since launching his career with his storied debut Here Be Monsters in 2001, Ed Harcourt has scored a nomination for the prestigious Mercury Prize and become a much in demand contributor to other people’s albums (the most recent being Marianne Faithfull’s widely heralded Negative Capability), Harcourt happily assumed the role of a pensive provocateur capable of both a cinematic sweep and low cast musings.
While none of his previous efforts have offered much in the way of a catchy, hummable music, Beyond The End easily ranks as Harcourt’s most adventurous effort yet. A stately set of piano based instrumentals with occasional violin and cello accompaniment, it’s mostly the stuff of a sitting room variety. There’s little variation from track to track, mostly mellow interludes with classical overtones of an understated intensity. In fact, they serve more as mood music, unobtrusive but only obliquely engaging. Instrumental enthusiasts will likely find some cause for fascination, but overall Beyond The End will likely attract only passive notice from all but those with an inherent interest in instrumental interludes
That’s not to say Beyond The End is doomed to obscurity. Songs such as “Wolves Changes Rivers,” “Duet For Ghosts” and the tellingly titled “Whiskey Held My Sleep To Ransom” are alluring and atmospheric, all spatial, celestial indulgence plied from a purist perspective. Harcourt recorded the work at home on a vintage 1910 Baby Grand piano, culling some of his earliest influences in the process—modern masters like Philip Glass and Max Richter and classical composers such as Debussy, Mozart, Grieg, and Satie. He retains a purity of purpose. Only an occasional selection such as “Faded Photographs” and “Circling Red Kites” manage to pick up the pacing with much of the music coming across as studious and intent. It resembles a recital in many ways, the work of an inherent introvert determined to dispel any celebratory sensibilities.
Not that Harcourt has ever appeared otherwise. Mood music…make that moody music has always been the essence of his essential milieu. His emphasis on tone and texture are a source of specific fascination, although the darker notions that inevitably triumph over the light. Beyond The End won’t change that perception, not even remotely, but it does serve as an ideal example of Harcourt’s fearless embrace of whatever creative concepts inevitably come his way.