Music

George Ezra Plays Blissfully Unaware on 'Staying at Tamara's'

Photo courtesy of Sony Music

George Ezra's Staying at Tamara's is upbeat and light to a fault, a microcosm of cheer mostly blissfully unaware of the chaotic world around it.

Staying at Tamara's
George Ezra

Columbia / Sony

23 March 2018

There is most certainly a place on pop radio for sincere, well-meaning, young singer-songwriters who want to put a smile on everyone's face. George Ezra knows this as well as anyone, having just a couple short years ago conquered pop radio with a geographically literate, ridiculously catchy ditty called "Budapest". An acoustic guitar, a whole mess of falsetto, and a touch of ska revival later, and Ezra's a fixture on "best new" and "up-and-coming" lists.

Now the up-and-comer is an established artist, having released the all-important second album. This one's called Staying at Tamara's, a nod to the idea that the album was largely written in Barcelona while staying with a friend. Ezra went back home to England so he could record the album in London, but the album's heart is in Spain. That said, the result carries few, if any, cultural cues from the country in which it was conceived. There are no melodies, no rhythms, not even any lyrical allusions (unless you want to read way, way into the song title of "Paradise" and lyrics like "All those setting suns / And all those rising moons") to Barcelona, just a sort of loose frivolity that seems weirdly out of place in the deathly serious modern cultural discourse.

Perhaps that's the whole point, though; maybe Ezra needed to get away, away from Brexit, away from toxic world news dominated by the division sown by Trump, away from the near-nihilist bent of resigned conversation regarding the state of the world. "What a terrible time to be alive / If you're prone to overthinking," Ezra sings in opener "Pretty Shining People", and it's maybe the one true moment of pathos on the entire album. It is quickly washed away with the sort of "if we only just worked together" sort of sentiment that renders such pathos inert, but it's at least a hint of what Ezra was trying to escape from when looking for inspiration.

For almost the entire remainder of the album, Ezra sings of a life so light and breezy that it barely exists. Mostly, this works for him. A song like "Paradise", with its call-and-response chorus and a tempo that gives it just a little bit of a "Budapest Part II" vibe, is utterly infectious, the type of thing you can't help but bop your head to even as you squirm at the insipid lyric. "Shotgun" is mostly another winner, a song with a catchy chorus that starts pleasing and sparse, with a touch of world rhythms by way of Paul Simon, eventually drowned in horns that are just a little too epic for a song about "riding shotgun / Underneath the hot sun". "Savior" is a beautiful little song that rides on a bluegrass shuffle and some fantastic extra harmonies from First Aid Kit, the Söderberg sisters adding some excellent Dixie Chicks harmonies to this extremely competent lite-country song.

Toward the end, things slow down a bit, and Ezra gets somewhat introspective. "Hold My Girl" is the lighter-waving slow jam of the album, genetically engineered to be played at weddings and proms the world over. Its lyrics aren't poetry exactly, but they do manage to stop just short of saccharine. Less successful is the piano ballad "Only a Human", a song that mistakes curse words for gravitas even as its message is the old cliché: better to try and fail, than to not try at all. While the pianos make for a nice break, the execution of the song is awkward and ultimately kind of boring.

Besides, If you're putting this album on, you're putting it on for a quick pick-me-up, you're putting it on so that you can have something playing in the background while you do chores, while you bake a cake, while you sit in a lounger under an umbrella, sipping a drink that has its own little umbrella. Staying at Tamara's is upbeat and light to a fault, a microcosm of cheer mostly blissfully unaware of the chaotic world around it. This is by design, sure, but it also makes the album feel unapologetically, yet unforgivably inconsequential.

There is most certainly a place on pop radio for sincere, well-meaning, young singer-songwriters who want to put a smile on everyone's face. George Ezra knows this as well as anyone, having just a couple short years ago conquered pop radio with a geographically literate, ridiculously catchy ditty called "Budapest". An acoustic guitar, a whole mess of falsetto, and a touch of ska revival later, and Ezra's a fixture on "best new" and "up-and-coming" lists.

Now the up-and-comer is an established artist, having released the all-important second album. This one's called Staying at Tamara's, a nod to the idea that the album was largely written in Barcelona while staying with a friend. Ezra went back home to England so he could record the album in London, but the album's heart is in Spain. That said, the result carries few, if any, cultural cues from the country in which it was conceived. There are no melodies, no rhythms, not even any lyrical allusions (unless you want to read way, way into the song title of "Paradise" and lyrics like "All those setting suns / And all those rising moons") to Barcelona, just a sort of loose frivolity that seems weirdly out of place in the deathly serious modern cultural discourse.

Perhaps that's the whole point, though; maybe Ezra needed to get away, away from Brexit, away from toxic world news dominated by the division sown by Trump, away from the near-nihilist bent of resigned conversation regarding the state of the world. "What a terrible time to be alive / If you're prone to overthinking," Ezra sings in opener "Pretty Shining People", and it's maybe the one true moment of pathos on the entire album. It is quickly washed away with the sort of "if we only just worked together" sort of sentiment that renders such pathos inert, but it's at least a hint of what Ezra was trying to escape from when looking for inspiration.

For almost the entire remainder of the album, Ezra sings of a life so light and breezy that it barely exists. Mostly, this works for him. A song like "Paradise", with its call-and-response chorus and a tempo that gives it just a little bit of a "Budapest Part II" vibe, is utterly infectious, the type of thing you can't help but bop your head to even as you squirm at the insipid lyric. "Shotgun" is mostly another winner, a song with a catchy chorus that starts pleasing and sparse, with a touch of world rhythms by way of Paul Simon, eventually drowned in horns that are just a little too epic for a song about "riding shotgun / Underneath the hot sun". "Savior" is a beautiful little song that rides on a bluegrass shuffle and some fantastic extra harmonies from First Aid Kit, the Söderberg sisters adding some excellent Dixie Chicks harmonies to this extremely competent lite-country song.

Toward the end, things slow down a bit, and Ezra gets somewhat introspective. "Hold My Girl" is the lighter-waving slow jam of the album, genetically engineered to be played at weddings and proms the world over. Its lyrics aren't poetry exactly, but they do manage to stop just short of saccharine. Less successful is the piano ballad "Only a Human", a song that mistakes curse words for gravitas even as its message is the old cliché: better to try and fail, than to not try at all. While the pianos make for a nice break, the execution of the song is awkward and ultimately kind of boring.

Besides, If you're putting this album on, you're putting it on for a quick pick-me-up, you're putting it on so that you can have something playing in the background while you do chores, while you bake a cake, while you sit in a lounger under an umbrella, sipping a drink that has its own little umbrella. Staying at Tamara's is upbeat and light to a fault, a microcosm of cheer mostly blissfully unaware of the chaotic world around it. This is by design, sure, but it also makes the album feel unapologetically, yet unforgivably inconsequential.

5
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