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“Oh! It’s the new George Ezra! Turn it up, mum!” squeals my 10-year-old as we drive home from a camping weekend. Her snarky preteen brother snorts his contempt for “kiddie pop”. I’m still cross with the pair of them for running off and leaving me to dismantle the tent alone, but I twist the dial, and soon we’re singing along in celebration of the “Green green grass / Blue blue sky”. The kids wind down windows and inhale countryside, as the simple, upbeat hooks of Gold Rush Kid’s 12 tracks kept on coming. The distinctively deep and bluesy swell of Ezra’s voice commits real heart to even the cheesiest lines. His choruses are as light and bright as beach balls, designed to be easily caught and cheerfully thrown back. I quit sulking and say we can stop for ice cream.
Ezra’s third album delivers precisely the kind of easygoing, family-friendly happiness we’ve come to expect. Gold Rush Kid doesn’t mess with the winning “nice lad with a guitar banging out the TOONS at a wedding reception” formula, which has landed him two No 1 albums and more than 300 weeks in the charts. By his own admission, this record is the work of a man who’s been “given 10 years to explore one thing”. But he’s also said that, at 29, he’s feeling more like himself in his work. That ease is particularly evident in the relaxed confidence of his vocals on the mellower guitar-picked or piano-backed songs towards the end of the album. He shifts comfortably into falsetto against the heat-haze synth of “Don’t Give Up”. He hums sweetly on “I Went Hunting” and “In the Morning”, letting the notes slip casually through him like a steering wheel through off-road fingers.
The affable catchiness of singles “Green Green Grass” and “Anyone For You” makes them feel like they’ve been around almost as long as 2018’s “Shotgun”. Fans will have fun carolling along to the brass-backed 4/4 groove of “Manila”, and cutting it up to the strobe pulse of “Dance All Over Me”. They’re hardly complex, but the emotional freight of Ezra’s swagger-yodel-swooning vocals makes them sound special. “Fell in Love at the End of the World” is flecked with the quirky lyrical touches that have often lifted Ezra’s songs (think “architecture unfamiliar” in “Shotgun”). So string-soaked images of “lavender burning” give way to a whopper of a chorus: “Good God, what’s a boy to do / Trynna keep his cool / Standing next to you?”
In keeping with the summer holiday spirit, the “Budapest” singer continues with the lyrical globetrotting. Alongside “Manila”, you can expect references to Rotterdam and a girl Ezra hopes won’t “forget me” when she’s “flying over the Serengeti”. He’s all-inclusive on the holiday destinations, hymning the pleasures of cities, rivers, deserts and mountains. Futuristic travellers get a glimpse of the “mountains on Mars”. He’s a veritable singing brochure!
In January, Ezra said in an interview that he continues to struggle with a form of OCD that causes intrusive thoughts. I wonder if the looping brain circuitry he experiences might also be what helps him find those earworm hooks. It’s good to hear that, with therapy, he’s been able to accept a degree of anxiety and live in the moment. You can hear all of this in the Fifties-flecked guitar work of Gold Rush Kid’s title track. There, he sings of a woman who looked inside his head and assured him: “You’re not alone / Although you feel alone / Making a run for it and learning to dance”.
I’ve got friends who are sniffy about Ezra. I think I am too, when I’m not actually listening to him. But being a snob about pop this wide-armed and open-hearted is like cocking a snook at the chance to sit on freshly cut lawns or eat ice cream. Go on. Scoop up this album. Have a flake with it.