Ezra's second effort delivers on the promise of his debut, with just enough change to keep you wanting more.
One of the great joys of life is being one of the first people on the bandwagon. Going to the gig where a no-name band open for some washed up 90s phenom and then seeing that band top the charts two years later. Reading a novel and loving it and all its characters only to see everyone pick it up two months later after it features on Richard and Judy’s book club (I presume Richard and Judy’s book club doesn’t exist anymore, do people just get book recommendations off Amazon now?).
The problem with this is that if you get aboard the bandwagon it can come to a very sudden halt if the dizzy heights are never matched again. This can be because those heights could never possibly be reached again; Joseph Heller was once told by an interviewer that he had never produced anything as good as Catch-22, to which Heller replied simply, “Who has?”. Alternatively, whatever it was that was glorious to start off with becomes a dull pastiche of itself when a sequel eventually arrives; a pain all too real for anyone who loved the first Kingsman film and then had to endure the sequel.
It is this tightrope that George Ezra traverses with his second album Staying at Tamara’s. He’s taken his time over it, we are now four years removed from his debut Wanted on Voyage, which topped the UK charts and produced two top ten singles on the way to scoring Ezra four BRIT Award nominations. The Hertfordshire crooner’s distinctive baritone made him an instant stand out and was a pleasant and fresh change from the general malaise of the “bloke with guitar singing love songs” crowd (looking at you, Sheeran).
Big expectations then, and, fortunately, Staying at Tamara’s delivers in full. Ezra’s voice remains a trump card, it can carry even the corniest lyric writing, “I got to know you better on the trampoline […] It’s a big jump, big jump, pull yourself together boy”, with a mesmeric quality. The standout track on the album, ‘Hold My Girl’, is a beautiful and swelling ballad driven by acoustic guitar and surging strings, but all the while dominated by Ezra’s vocals which really hit their stride when accompanied by a sparse backing track.
One also gets the sense that Ezra has been given the freedom to really enjoy himself on this album. The run of tracks that spans ‘Get Away’, ‘Shotgun’ and ‘Paradise’ has the potential to be the soundtrack for many a summer road trip, and ‘Shotgun’ in particular has a play-it-again quality that many artists could spend entire careers searching for. Ezra has clearly sought to push the boundaries of where his voice fits stylistically, and the range of the album makes Wanted on Voyage look distinctly conservative by comparison.
The weakest link in the album might be ‘Saviour’, which sounds like it’s trying to capture the same gospel-esque oeuvre as Wanted on Voyage’s ‘Breakaway’, but even a guest spot by First Aid Kit can’t quite save the track from feeling slightly lost at the back end of the album, which is admittedly heavy on slow and ponderous tracks. ‘Saviour’ was the last single released from the album, which had me concerned that it may not live up to expectation, but in context it’s a low point to kill for.
On ‘Pretty Shining People’ Ezra suggests that he “Can’t bring [himself]to dive into an ocean full of change”. Perhaps he wrote that line at the start of the process that ended with Staying at Tamara’s, because it seems like he’s quite happy to embrace a change in style from his debut turn, at least in part if not in whole. For those who jumped aboard the Ezra bandwagon at the outset, this album can be taken as a vindication that he’s no flash in the pan, and frankly if he keeps producing music of this standard he can take as long as he likes between releases. His sophomore effort shows Ezra is far from a one-trick pony, and that he can produce tracks to match those that made people fall in love with him in the first place. Embrace the change, George Ezra is here to stay.
Staying at Tamara’s is out now via Sony Music