Ed Sheeran became a household name in a relatively short space of time. After constantly gigging around the UK, releasing a collaboration EP with grime MC’s, and another acoustic EP (Loose Change), he released his debut album + in September 2011 to positive reviews. The album blended his acoustic and grime influences, however the results were mixed because while lyrically it was strong in places, musically it sounded generic and clichéd because he did not set himself apart from other acoustic artists. Nevertheless, his album helped gain a strong fanbase and propelled him on to sell out tours. He released his new album x in June, and it will be interesting if he can expand his sound.
The album opens with One, sounding almost identical to previous hit single The A Team, and sees Sheeran talk about stumbling home after a night out. The production is stronger, and includes high falsetto vocals, with Sheeran holding a note for around sixteen seconds, which is impressive. I’m a Mess continues the theme of the previous track, but although the heavy strumming feels forced, the layered harmonies add some atmosphere to the track.
Next comes the lead single, Sing; produced by Pharrell Williams. It is an upbeat funky pop song that contains interesting drum machine patterns and an incredibly infectious chorus which will have you singing along, however despite Sheeran’s breathtaking vocal range, he tries too hard to imitate Justin Timberlake. Don’t, produced by Rick Rubin and rapper Benny Blanco,is another exploration into R&B territory and the simple production on the drums help give off a raw and organic sound. Lyrically it could reference a previous relationship with Ellie Goulding with interesting wordplay referencing Goulding’s song Burn, “But then I jumped right in a week later returned/I reckon she was only looking for a lover to burn”.
Nina brings the tone down a bit, however lyrically it is quite weak as it discusses a relationship with singer-songwriter Nina Nesbitt and would not look out of place on a boy band’s album, while the vocal harmonies on Bloodstream are largely uninspiring, along with the refrain of “Tell me when it kicks in”.
Runaway is another soulful track with a clear Justin Timberlake influence, while The Man is a letter to ex-girlfriend Alice, one of the key inspirations for his first album. It is introspective and you can hear the emotion in Sheeran’s voice, demonstrating that he still has feelings for her (“I guess I lied in the hook, ‘cause I still love you and need you by my side if I could”).
The final track, Afire Love, sees Sheeran reminisce about the death of his grandparents and it is an emotional, heartfelt track. A gospel style refrain is used as a tribute to them, which is a nice way to finish the album.
Overall, X saw Sheeran continue to feel strongly from his ex girlfriend. While this is relatable to a lot of people, perhaps some more positive sounding songs with infectious choruses could be included, in addition to some hip-hop influenced songs. Despite this, the album is a must-have for Ed Sheeran fans.
Top Tracks: ‘Don’t’, ‘The Man’, ‘Afire Love’
For Fans Of: Bon Iver, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams