The third full-length album by the English singer and songwriter features more of his standard terrific pop melodies, chock full of rough edges and singalong choruses. Harcourt can craft fine songs, but his albums can be uneven affairs. His 2001 debut Here Be monsters was fairly good, but the two-year-old CD From Every Sphere was definitely a mixed bag. However, Strangers is probably the best of the lot.

The album begins with a 20-second blast of guitar feedback, which bodes ominously leading into a song titled "The Storm Is Coming." The melody kicks in quickly thereafter, though, and Harcourt sings "The storm is coming/It's gonna make a beautiful sound/I hope it turns your life upside down"--which serves as an effective statement of purpose for the new album. Other songs, like the soaring "Loneliness," the playful "Born in the '70s," and the timelessness of "This One's For You," bear out Harcourt's "beautiful sound" mission statement.

Strangers is a very welcome CD from an artist who showed tremendous promise on his debut, only to suffer from classic sophomore slump. Harcourt has taken back control of his creative destiny with Strangers, an album which is an early contender for the upper reaches of 2005's best.

Mike Sauter, WYEP Music Director