Oft throughout his seven-year solo career, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Ed Harcourt has been pegged as the next Tom Waits, a comparison that has never ceased to baffle me. Certainly both are talented songwriters, prolific at that, and both play piano, but the similarities end there. If anything, Harcourt’s first proper retrospective, Until Tomorrow Then (The Best of), reminds us that over the course of five albums, Harcourt has paved a singular path that sounds nothing like Waits at all.
This collection is tuneful and romantic, and the bulk of its material comes saturated in the kind of amorous, dripping romanticism that Harcourt seems to have found his niche in. But for all of his plaintive, love-drenched melodies, he never manages to channel the gravelly depths of an artist like Tom Waits.
When he imparts bits of wisdom, they come across as clichéd. Such is the case for a lyric like, “When you’re on your own, you walk in the rain,” from “Apple in My Eye.” In fact, while most of the tunes here are lovely and hummable, it all feels too easy. I’ve always believed in working for your supper, and in this compilation, Harcourt doesn’t demand much at all of his listeners.
Amid these sixteen tracks, however, there are a few gems. The disco-tinged “Visit from a Dead Dog,” the organ-infused pop dirge “All of Your Days Will Be Blessed,” and the upbeat anthem ”Born in the Seventies” come as a welcome break from Harcourt’s endless romantic daydreams, tangible proof that when he pushes himself away from his comfort zone, he is capable of greatness.
If only every song could ascend to the triumphant heights found in the sorrowful track “Loneliness” or achieve the fractured beauty of “Fireflies Take Flight,” where Harcourt lists off various omens, illnesses, and things that go bump in the night, only to suggest that things aren’t that bad after all. Instead, Until Tomorrow Then contains too much of the same, and not much in the way of musical discovery and life-enriching insight, making Ed Harcourt not the next Tom Waits at all, just Ed Harcourt.