Soulful UK folk-pop vocalist George Ezra hasn’t released a studio album since 2018, but he’s been steadily building his brand as one of his home country’s most recognizable musical figures through other lanes in the meantime. Fresh off of being invited to perform for the Queen, his third project Gold Rush Kid certainly takes things in a bit of an unexpected new direction. Mostly known previously for his deep vocals well-suited to carry poetic lyrics and storytelling over acoustic soundscapes, Ezra’s latest sees him tackling some of the loudest and most extravagant music of his career as he ventures into gospel-infused funk and dance-pop. Unfortunately, for the most part, it really doesn’t work out. Ezra’s unrelenting positivity verges on obnoxious, and his vocals feel incredibly out of place on many of these mixes. There gets to be a point where you reach peak “Uptown Funk!” in terms of a manic, uplifting energy, and Ezra has overshot it here when I’m unsure if he should have taken a shot at it at all. Basically, it sounds like what would happen if Hozier joined AJR.
The first sound you hear on the album is a garish, high-pitched pounding piano riff that feels like it’s on the verge of being one of those sounds that only dogs are able to hear before Ezra opens strong by making special lyrical note that the song’s romantic interest is significantly younger than him. With a chorus filled with generic “light in the darkness” lyrical tropes exploding into unearned massive harmonies, Ezra’s wavering, soulful inflections might have sounded good elsewhere but on this frenetic soundboard it just makes him sound like he’s out of breath, struggling to keep up. It’s unfortunate, because he’s clearly a highly talented vocalist, but when the instrumental insists on slapping the listener into submission it’s the last thing on your mind. “Green Green Grass” opens with some pitched-down vocals of the chorus we’re eventually going to build to like it’s an EDM song from 2013 before Ezra comes in essentially rapping. The chorus genuinely feels like it could be a classic gospel hymn, but when you combine it with the synth-funk chords and the random embellishments in the back it almost feels disrespectful to the art form. This is the kind of song destined to become a meme – suggesting that it’s slightly more listenable than the rest. The title track features the first instance of Ezra’s falsetto, another highlight of his vocal talent that just comes across as goofy when the instrumental sounds like what would be playing at a kid’s birthday party. The opening run of tracks feels like what the Minions movies are trying to accomplish in song form – throw as much chaos, flying colours and screaming on the screen as possible and kids will love it regardless of if there’s any substance or not.
The track “Manila” introduces a couplet of COVID-inspired songs as Ezra toasts to his “lockdown Cinderella” through a series of Train-esque random positive-sounding phrases and overly conversational moments. It’s one of the more effective memories on the project and it’s certainly fun to sing, but the distorted layering on the guitar solo near the end is still a bizarre choice. “Fell In Love At The End Of The World” heralds the triumphant return of Ezra’s falsetto for one of the heaviest helpings of cheese on the project. It feels like Ezra is making fun of overzealous country and soul singers from the 1950s, throwing his voice into the stratosphere and then getting as low as he can in back-to-back lines, but he’s doing it with an entirely straight face over a basic piano-pop instrumental and saying things like “I just wish I was as cool as my girlfriend.” The first half closes out with “Don’t Give Up,” which contains one of the most anticlimactic choruses you’ll hear all year as Ezra endlessly repeats the title on a single note as slowly as he can to drop the energy levels all the way down, possibly to counteract the hyperactive first couple tracks.
The final track before a series of more introspective ones closes it out, “Dance All Over Me” feels a little bit like Ezra was trying to offer up a slightly darker, more mysterious version of the vapidity of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” With bland and repetitive lyricism and an uncomfortably loud mix drowning him out once again, a return to acoustics should be a relief. While “I Went Hunting” might be the track most reminiscent of his older work here, the low-effort choruses and songwriting continue and make it just as annoying as the last. The record-skipping gimmick to describe an inescapable and unpleasant thought pattern in the 2nd verse just makes it entirely unmusical and out-of-place in what was intended to be a more emotional moment. “In The Morning” is unmercifully the longest track here, as Ezra drops a stuttered falsetto chorus over more lowkey folksy acoustics that makes it sound like he has something stuck in his throat and he’s forcing the words out. In another moment that connects him to AJR, Ezra continues to confusingly insist on lyricism that imagines him as inexperienced and young, the 29-year-old hoping a former partner doesn’t forget the “boy” when she moves onto a new man. Certain moments in the track just show what could have been – Ezra truly does have a fantastic, unique vocal tone when it’s applied well. Instead, he’s opting to repeat “hey, hey, it’s a new day.”
There is one gem to be found amidst all of the madness here – as long as you can ignore Ezra saying things like “for heaven’s sakes” and “goodness gracious” along the way. “Sweetest Human Being Alive” is a legitimately adorable, touching and emotional piano ballad as Ezra sings to the future life partner that he hasn’t met yet and the love-at-first-sight moment that they’re sure to have. It’s nice and simple after everything that we’ve heard up to here, and the orchestral swells at the end are earned unlike a track like “I Went Hunting.” Then, it’s back to the randomness as Ezra closes things out with a jubilant pop song where he repeats “I’m giving up on myself” and “The Sun Went Down,” a mantra-style track where he asserts that he’s so happy he could die. Almost nothing on this project feels planned or intentional.
It’s strange to think that this is the same artist who rose to prominence out of nowhere after dropping “Budapest” nearly a decade ago, but this is one of the most colossal misfires in recent memory when it comes to a switch-up in sound. To name-drop JT again, the last comparable must be his Man Of The Woods album. Now catch me singing “Green Green Grass” at karaoke.
Favourite Tracks: Sweetest Human Being Alive, Manila
Least Favourite Track: Gold Rush Kid