Third set from Sussex singer-songwriter following last year's widely acclaimed From Every Sphere

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Beached Boy

“LONELINESS,” Ed harcourt sings on this album’s song of the same name, “what would I do without you?” As a sentiment, it could almost be a mantra for singer-songwriters, wryly summarising the plight of the solitary troubadour. To his credit, Harcourt works hard to resist fey self-pity. Like those of Rufus Wainwright, his songs luxuriate in orch-pop settings, with his facility on a range of instruments giving him an edge over sensitive acoustic warblers past and present. The influence of late-’60s/early-’70s Brian Wilson?whose lost classic “Still I Dream Of It” he had the good taste to cover last year?is never far away.

Unfortunately, Harcourt only ever comes close to the inexplicable brilliance of Wilson. Like last year’s From Every Sphere, Strangers is never quite special. Harcourt’s breathy Dennis-Wilson-meets-Colin-Blunstone tenor floats mellifluously over workaday piano chords that sound too often like bad Badly Drawn Boy rather than the late, great Elliott Smith.

Strangers works best when at its poppiest, as on the sunny, Supertramp-ish title track, the cutely autobiographical “Born In The ’70s” and the ardent, anthemic “Loneliness”. “Let Love Not Weigh Me Down” lays its emotion with a heavy trowel, and a cobwebbed pump organ fails to turn “Something To Live For” into anything more than a Tom Waits/Sparklehorse crib. “The Trapdoor”, meanwhile, features Lee Underwood-ish guitar fills but falls some way short of Tim Buckley’s hazy driftings. Next time, Ed, step into the unknown. It’s the only way forward.