Ed Harcourt - Russian Roulette

Owain Paciuszko 19/05/2009

Rating: 4/5

The first release since the end of Harcourt's contract with EMI sees the Mercury prize nominated troubadour on fine form. Opening with the simple, maudlin piano of the title-track there's a definite throwback to the simpler arrangments of Harcourt's earlier releases such as Here Be Monsters and somewhat latterly Strangers. It's a mournful yet optimistic tune that builds elegantly towards a truly spine-tingling finale.

Sour Milk, Motheaten Silk finds Harcourt in a playful mood, bearing some similarity to Daisies of the Galaxy-era Eels, with a head-nodding beat over quirkier instrumentation as Harcourt's lyrics follow similar wry list territory to recent tracks Rain On The Pretty Ones and Revolution in the Heart. Black Feathers has the rusty feel of Harcourt's earlier solo-work, a bitterly plucked guitar plays as Harcourt sings - like a less gravelled Tom Waits - 'I see doubt in your eyes, you want to be back in the womb, oh momma's boy, there just ain't no room.' It showcases an experimental and low-down level of production that earnt Harcourt his early plaudits.

Caterpillar springboards off of a cutesy Casio beat and is pretty darn twee across the board, it's sweet and endearing, if the weakest track here. But perhaps maybe only because I prefer Harcourt's darker moments? Saying that the sunshine country ramble of Creep Out of the Woodwork is an absolute delight, though the lyrics do seem at odds with the buoyant flavour of its instrumentation. The EP ends with The Girl with the One Track Mind a simple piano-ballad with heart and emotion, foregoing the bland structuring that other artists might use as a crutch, instead telling a tale and hitting emotional beats with wit and poignancy.

Generally this EP finds Harcourt in familiar territory, but there's a freedom to how its all put together that suggests he's got a tad more control over what he's doing. With a talent as prolific and interesting as his this is an extremely tantilising taster of what's to come, and stands as a route-marker on an already fascinating career.