It’s a cliche, and rather a patronising one at that, to describe a young artist as seeming ‘old beyond their years’. It was only last year, for example, that many journalists seemed amazed that The Strypes were more interested in listening to the likes of Little Walter and Doctor Feelgood than in Instagramming selfies taken with the cast of TOWIE. The 17-year-old Lorde was similarly hailed for simply writing her own songs and being singularly uninterested in twerking.
That said, George Ezra really does have the voice of an old head on young shoulders. His deep, gritty voice sounds like a grizzled blues veteran from the 1920s rather than that of a 21-year-old from Hertfordshire, and there are times on this debut album where he sounds like those noted teen stars Nick Cave or Bob Dylan. And while Wanted On Voyage may have a couple of small flaws, it’s certainly a hugely distinctive and promising album.
Ezra has been on most people’s radars since coming 5th in the BBC’s Sound of 2014 poll and this alone is possibly enough for some to treat him with a fair degree of suspicion. Yet there’s a freshness and lack of cynicism about Ezra to set him apart from the likes of Jake Bugg (who he’s often erroneously compared to). Above all, he obviously has the songwriting chops to match that extraordinary voice.
Long-term fans will recognise a fair few of the songs collected on Wanted On Voyage – early singles like Budapest, Cassy O and Did You Hear The Rain are all present, and still sound wonderfully fresh and vibrant. Cassy O in particular is a contender for song of the summer, a gloriously frantic, catchy stomper that sticks in the mind for ages after just one play, and Budapest is a beautifully evocative folk song built on a simple but effective guitar riff and showing off Ezra’s voice to its very best advantage.
Many of these songs were apparently written while Ezra was backpacking across Europe (there’s another song named after a famous European city in Barcelona), and there’s certainly a restless energy fuelling many of the tracks. Blame It On Me kicks off the album to a blistering start, with a swagger and self-confidence that’s quite startling, and the re-recorded Did You Hear The Rain is stunning, from the astonishing a cappella introduction to the dark, delta blues atmosphere of the song itself.
There’s something proudly unclassifiable about Ezra’s music. While it may sit squarely in the ‘indie’ bracket (you can’t quite imagine him guesting on a Rudimental or Disclosure track any time soon), there’s more to his songs than meat and potatoes rock. Ezra’s style bounces from gorgeously laid-back ballads like Barcelona, summery pop such as Stand By Your Gun or dark, expansive Bad Seeds style rock, as on the closing Spectacular Rival – a track that hints at a different, and pretty exciting, direction for Ezra.
He’s at his best though in a stripped-back format, as the gorgeously mournful Breakaway proves – it begins all bare and sparse, with just Ezra’s voice against a guitar, then as the song progresses, all layers of electronica are laid on top of the track and then, towards the end, a gospel choir kicks in. It’s a song that can genuinely produce goosebumps.
Any quibbles with Wanted On Voyage are minor ones: the most immediate tracks are towards the start of the album, making it seem a bit ‘front-loaded’, but in reality this bodes well for the longevity of the album. After a few plays, songs like Leave It Up To You and Over The Creek seem like old friends. There’s been a fair degree of hype about young British solo singer-songwriters in recent times, not all of which have matched up to the reality. On this evidence though, George Ezra is the real deal.