George Ezra has long been able to excavate joy from many crevices of life: an inter-railing trip gone wrong (breakthrough single ‘Budapest’), making mistakes (‘Don’t Matter Now’), a sweltering heatwave (the chart-topping ‘Shotgun’) – nothing is spared from his uber-optimistic gaze. His first two albums, 2014’s ‘Wanted On Voyage’ and ‘Staying At Tamara’s’, released four years later, radiated playfulness through posi-pop songs imbued with glimpses into the 29-year-old’s experience of coping with international fame.
But Ezra’s story has an added layer of complexity. In 2020, the vocalist and guitarist opened up about his struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as well as anxiety, both of which culminated in his experience at the 2019 BRITs – where he won the award for British Male Solo Artist – leaving him “in bits” due to the pressures of keeping up appearances, as he told the BBC. It was a brave and powerful admission from an artist whose career, at that moment in time, was ascending at hyper-speed.
The effusive ‘Gold Rush Kid’ sees Ezra marvel at his status as one of the UK’s most successful singer-songwriters of the past decade – his debut recently went five times Platinum – with a title track that sees him awed by the unexpected nature of his situation. “I’m the gold rush kid / Robbing the bank,” he sings giddily over a caffeinated drumline so demanding and bouncy it could spur on a conga line. It’s a fun and curious ditty, yet the songwriting frustratingly positions Ezra as someone who got lucky, rather than an ambitious auteur ready to set his own fate after years of hardship.
Elsewhere, though, this theme comes secondary to descriptions of a crisis induced by losing control, with bright, almost homespun production tasked with keeping our narrator grounded. Over gentle acoustic guitar, ‘I Went Hunting’’s exploration of mental illness is frank and affecting: “Imagine having a thought and then thinking it again,” Ezra repeats over and over, as though he is spiralling. Precise instances of disillusion abound: ‘Manila’ references the mind-numbing nature of lockdown, while on ‘Fell In Love At The End Of The World’, Ezra’s vocals sound deep and weighty, as though being transmitted from the middle of a thunderstorm.
The lightly sombre, searching mood occasionally breaks: sound clips of party poppers and cheers adorn ‘Green Green Grass’, and galloping keys run through ‘Anyone For You’. On ‘In The Morning’, meanwhile, Ezra transcends the idea that relief can only ever be fleeting: “Happy days will come / And I’ll be moving on”, he sings, generously extending his new, hard-won perspective to anyone who will listen.
Release date: June 10
Record label: Columbia Records