New-Brit troubadour Ed Harcourt's self-proclaimed influences of Jack Nicholson and Tom Waits wear well here, but only as a thematic cloak to his near-falsetto Radiohead warble. For listening purposes, that's a good thing. There's that lazy calliope tendency of The Flaming Lips' studio noodling throughout "Sphere," tousled and leaning into near-cryptic storytelling. "All of your thoughts will be crowned/ you'll be the toast of the town/ into the beautiful million crystal spheres," he dreams on "All of Your Days Will Get Blessed," as a crescendo of repetition threatens to swallow optimism and render it mere starry-eyed mania. But the beautiful pullback of the harmonica-and-piano ballad "Sister Renee" slides things back down to a suitable reflection, even if it does detail hatchets going into backs and turns into a swampy harmony hymn. "Heal these blisters, sacred sister," Harcourt croons, as goose bumps rush in to take their place. The alchemy of sounds, influences and words is as thick as absinthe, making "Sphere" a landmark record truly worthy of its hip-press hype and the broken hearts it's bound to inspire. And he's obviously crazy, which makes it that much better.
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