Ed Harcourt

Here Be Monsters (Heavenly/Capitol)

For those about to mope, we salute those who would slap some sense into you. Call it Mystery White Boy Disease: Every bonehead with a dreamy voice and a dreary outlook gets the Jeff Buckley hype treatment these days, though most croonin' 'n' cryin' playas are more King Cobra than Lilac Wine.

Will Ed Harcourt make you sell all your Jeff paraphernalia on eBay? Nope. But Here Be Monsters delivers groovy, gauzy ballads for you lovesick dreamers, notable for their piano-driven soft-rock arrangements dressed up with horns, woozy back-up vocals, and various forms of overpriced studio esoterica. As a whole, it's trapped halfway between funeral and carnival, alternating dorky pop snoozers ("She Fell Into My Arms," "God Protect Your Soul" and other ill-advised "British Dudes Rockin' Out" moments) with such slow, weepy piano ballads as "Those Crimson Tears." All in all, precisely what you'd expect from a dude writing songs in his grandmother's basement. Sheesh.

Tom Waits this ain't -- all the rough edges are meticulously sanded down, leaving Monsters with an annoying "new car" smell. But there are melodic trap doors and aural subplots aplenty, and you're rootin' for ol' Ed to get it right by the time he does: "Beneath the Heart of Darkness" bears an absurd title but a splendid mix of shuffling beats, jazzy trumpet, a surly distorted guitar breakdown, and a light, airy coda to top it off. He probably stole it all from Mogwai. We don't care. Just so long as we're not stuck with King Cobra for once.

 
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