Byline: Nandini D’Souza
NEW YORK — Could English pop import Ed Harcourt help swing American tastes from the beat-synth-moans of teen acts back to melody- and lyric-driven music?
The 24-year-old, with expertly tousled hair and requisite good-looks, is already famous in the U.K., thanks to his first full-length album, “Here Be Monsters,” and a prestigious Mercury Music Prize nomination last year. The record had critics all over the Commonwealth buzzing, anointing Harcourt the next Big Thing. “Here Be Monsters” hits U.S. stores today and on Thursday, he makes his New York debut at Joe’s Pub.
Harcourt, who writes his own songs, doesn’t take much notice of the hype, however. “I’m worried that it’s going to inflate my ego,” he says with mock pretension, “which is already absolutely huge.” In reality, he’s more interested in writing well-crafted songs, stating that he’s “on a mission to bring it to the fore again.”
And, to say the least, he’s prolific, having penned close to 400 tunes in less than five years. “I guess that’s two to three songs a week,” he calculates, give or take a few weeks off for touring and vacation. With such an impressive back catalog, it’s no wonder he’s eager to discuss the next album before even stepping on stage for his first American show. “It’s going to be fantastic — but I’m not allowed to talk about that,” he whispers, sounding like a boy who’s already had his wrists slapped by record execs for jumping the gun.
His big, piano-heavy melodies and brooding lyrics earned him comparisons to angst posterboys Jeff Buckley and Tom Waits. Resigning himself to the idea of being pigeon-holed, he says, “at least I’m being compared to good people — as long as it’s not ‘NSync or Limp Bizkit.”
The album itself is full of lyrical pop centered around Harcourt’s bluesy piano-playing and troubadour vocals. He layers rocking jazz numbers and dreamy, bittersweet love songs with horns, strings and the glockenspiel — “I have a big thing for twinkling sounds like that.”
It’s the type of music he hopes audiences will listen to late at night, lying back in bed with the headphones on. “I want you to get sucked into the tornado of my world,” he says. “Here Be Monsters” is an ancient cartographer’s term for uncharted waters, and he works on the illusion of himself as a ship lost at sea, being “pulled down by a big squid or whale. Who knows what could happen to me?” It’s also a reference to his songs — “They’re like little monsters that you can’t control.”