It’s been five years since George Ezra was introduced to a wider audience, thorough the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury 2013. Since then, his career has developed at a frightening pace, including releasing bona-fide anthem Budapest, having the third best selling album of 2014 in Wanted On Voyage and generally becoming the only real competitor to the omnipotent Ed Sheeran in the ‘nice young man with guitar’ stakes.
It’s a career trajectory which means that the follow up album Staying At Tamara’s seems like rather a big deal. Ezra’s record company has played the long game with the album, releasing the first single Don’t Matter Now almost nine months ago, and saturating the radio airwaves with following track Paradise since January. It’s a method which ensures that Ezra’s unique voice is as familiar to as many people as possible prior to the release of Staying At Tamara’s.
As for those two singles, they give a pretty good idea of what the album sounds like: big, brassy pop anthems with huge, call and response choruses. Paradise in particular is almost insidiously catchy, burying its way into your brain until you’re almost subconsciously singing along with it. Ezra’s voice sounds as good as ever, a deep, rich baritone that makes him sound far older than his 24 years.
He’s at his best on tracks like the opening Pretty Shining People, which almost becomes an anthem for the anxious, with lines like “what a terrible time to be alive, if you’re prone to over thinking”. It’s a song that becomes more poignant and uplifting with each listen, especially given Ezra’s own well-documented struggle with anxiety; this being a topic covered on Get Away, which is dominated by a huge chorus augmented by backing singers.
But after a while it all starts to sound rather similar. When Paradise employs its big call and response trick, it feels fresh and exciting. When it’s seemingly repeated ad nauseum throughout the album, it becomes rather repetitive. There’s also the suspicion that Ezra has started to employ a trick that’s been so successful for Ed Sheeran, and that is to write a song seemingly tailor made for a particular occasion.
For example, Sheeran has been quite open about the fact that Galway Girl was written explicitly for Irish pubs to play on St Patrick’s Day and that Supermarket Flowers makes a decent record to play at funerals. Although there’s nothing quite as breathtakingly cynical as that on Staying For Tamara’s, there is Shotgun, seemingly written as a soundtrack to sunny road trips around Europe with friends, while Hold My Girl may as well be subtitled “this would make a cracking first dance at a wedding, just in case you were looking for something like that”.
Which is fine, and if Ezra is half as successful as Sheeran, then it’ll be seen as job done. Yet it would be nice to hear more of Ezra’s personality in these songs – where Wanted On Voyage was a good sketch of a promising young songwriter at the start of his career, too much of Staying At Tamara’s sees Ezra sound a bit anonymous and characterless: songs like Saviour and Sugarcoat could have been recorded by anyone from the seemingly endless ranks of young male troubadours out there.
But Ezra has built an audience, and Staying At Tamara’s will no doubt be a huge hit. Although it will sound perfect in the arenas of the land this summer, for those of us who were blown away by early tracks like Budapest and Cassy O, there’s a lot on this follow-up that plays a bit too safe.