George Ezra, ‘Wanted on Voyage’ – Album Review
It sometimes takes a little while to suss out an artist's biggest strengths, but that definitely isn't the case with George Ezra: Just listening to him sing for a few seconds is enough to let you know he's one of the most distinctive-sounding male British blue-eyed soul belters since the commercial heydays of Simply Red and Rick Astley. (That's a compliment, by the way.) If there's a U.K. artist capable of filling the platinum Northern soul void left by the hiatus-taking Adele, it might be Ezra.
Unfortunately, while listening to the entirety of Ezra's debut full-length effort, 'Wanted on Voyage,' it becomes apparent that the Adele comparisons are warranted in more ways than one -- specifically, this album offers a textbook case of a wonderful voice saddled with songs that are all too often not worthy of the gift. Halfway through, Ezra's instrument starts sounding like a half-holstered weapon; he always has enough room to get your attention, but what starts out as a groove ('Blame It on Me,' 'Budapest' and 'Cassy O' open the record with a terrific 1-2-3 punch) eventually settles into a rut.
It isn't that 'Wanted on Voyage' is bad, necessarily. In fact, there really aren't any bad songs here. It's more that the record is just good enough to leave the listener frustrated that it doesn't take fuller advantage of his gifts -- on balance, it settles for pleasant when it's clear that it could have been transcendent.
Griping aside, this set of songs does include some definite highlights, among them the silky 'Budapest' (already a chart-topper in multiple countries) and 'Cassy O,' which is such a persuasive 21st-century soul belter that it's hard not to imagine what Wilson Pickett would have sounded like tackling the chorus. There just aren't enough deviations on the radio-ready formula; when Ezra's baritone goes full doom on the closing cut, 'Spectacular Rival,' it's refreshing, but it's overdue -- like Depeche Mode tacked on the end of a pajama party mixtape.
All in all, 'Wanted on Voyage' is impressive enough on its own terms, and if it isn't anywhere near the record Ezra seems capable of, that's okay too; after all, the kid is only 21. Look for better things from him in the future, and prepare for this album's singles to be all but inescapable over the next year and change.