The first time I saw Ed Sheeran perform was when I stumbled across him by accident, at a small festival in the middle of an English countryside. Barely anyone had heard of his name, but he was playing in a tent filled with couches and that was probably the main reason he acquired an audience. Fast forward a good few years and he’s a global superstar. Hot off the heels of hits such as “A Team” and “Lego House”, he garnered a devoted fan base, numerous nominations and awards, and has now returned with his second album, x. It’s achieved number one status in both the US and the UK and it certainly feeds the appetites of his devoted fan base, with the deluxe version having over an hour of a strumming guitar and an English accent.
The majority of the population who takes an interest, however minor, in popular music today will have heard of Ed Sheeran. He tours relentlessly, has remoured dalliances with world famous superstars like Taylor Swift and seems to be best friends with teenage pop sensations One Direction. He plays a guitar, seems to have fallen in love and been screwed over many a time, and sells a ton of records. People love him. Girls fawn over him, and guys realise that the awkward, emotional look may help them get the ladies after all. He’s got a formula and it works, so it seems odd to think of switching things up at all. Yet Sheeran is probably so confident in his popularity that he’s not afraid of changing musical directions and breathing fresh air into his often monotonous sound.
On x he’s certainly drifted into a more urban sound, which is actually relatively unsurprising given that Rick Rubin is an influential producer on the album. Lead song “Sing” is a prime example of a song that couldn’t sound less like typical Ed Sheeran. With the help of Pharrell, he delivers one of the best songs on the album which scored him his first UK number one hit. This new sound that peppers the album gives it an essential breath of life, without which Sheeran would have undoubtably delivered a boring, lifeless piece of work.
There’s no denying that Sheeran is a talented wordsmith. He uses past experiences and stories and moulds them into money making songs that stick in your head for days. I wouldn’t be surprised if the real life Nina was sitting at home somewhere kicking herself for not making things work with her short term, weed smoking, teenage lover. Similarly on the song “Don’t” Sheeran laments a fling who ended up sleeping with his friend. Taylor Swift seems the likely candidate for this one, but Sheeran adamantly states that she’s not the subject. Nonetheless, the speculation is enough to keep people talking, which leads to people buying, which leads to chart successes and tour dates. Sheeran understands what people want—a way of vicariously living through his heartbreaks—and he gives it to them in words which could make the coldest of hearts melt for him.
The potential to move away from teen pop romance and heartbreak is evident with x. It was seen on + hit “A Team” which dealt with issues of addiction, and alternative dark subjects are also dealt with in x just not to the extent which would have made the album truly interesting and unique. “Afire Love”, the album closer, deals with the stress and pain of Alzheimer’s disease and death. It’s a beautifully touching song, and with it you can forgive all the cliche lyrics that pepper the majority of the rest of the album.
The album name, to be read as ‘multiply’ implies a positive progression from his first album +, but it’s not clear that Sheeran succeeds in fulfilling this expectation. The album is good that’s for sure; Sheeran is too talented to deliver a sub par album. It suffers in terms of consistency. Some songs are really great, and make you completely rethink what type of artist Sheeran is. Other songs however lack originality and flare. Then there’s the subject material. It’s predictable and boring to see another singer songwriter talk about relationships and emotions. It sells but it’s clear that Sheeran is gifted and creative enough to not have to rely on that. He’s come a long way from playing to a handful of tired festival goers looking for a place to sleep and avoid the rain but here’s hoping he finds something new to regularly talk about and gets a girlfriend before his next album is released.