By James Lowe 
****Ed Harcourt occupies the classically precarious position of being a good singer-songwriter. Such ability isn’t always particularly useful, commercial, or cool. So you can play a wistful piano, sing with cracked chords and strum under a tree in the pale autumn dawn? Then you can be a singer-songwriter. They come and go like internships for students: you feel you should give them a go but you don’t really want to spend all your time there.Harcourt alerted the world to his fragile presence with 2001’s Mercury-nominated LP Here Be Monsters, and has released five critically acclaimed albums since then. Being a best of, there isn’t a ‘bad’ song on here. They are all strong, from the bizarre, melancholic exuberance of ‘Born in the ‘70s’ to the Ryan Adams bar-room lilt of ‘This One’s For You’. Lyrical adventures abound, and the instrumentation kicks back from mid-tempo indie rock on ‘Watching the Sun Come Up’ to whispery strings on a rowing boat at midnight on ‘Something In My Eye.’ There’s enough variety and instrumental exoticism to merit further ear time and the general vibe of this album is that Harcourt is talented in an age that doesn’t understand or recognise such talent. Dinner party material? Possibly. But I’d rather listen to Harcourt with his romantic notion of life as overpowering and wildly affecting than, say, Norah Jones’s life as commercial lucky-dip.Harcourt’s voice, a combination of Tom Waits talking in a stage whisper to Nick Drake as Ryan Adams makes himself heard over the piano, is comfortable with mumble-into-the-microphone melancholy, shout-out-loud hoarseness or watch-that-vibrato timidity. Which is no bad thing, but the breath of these elders hangs heavy on the air, meaning that Harcourt is a good singer-songwriter, yes, but that can only get you so far nowadays.