2 years on from his debut, “+”, Ed Sheeran sticks to his guns with his sophomore release “x”.
Anybody who came in expecting the album to follow the theme of UK #1 single “Sing” will be severely disappointed, but it is nice to see an artist stick to their roots after new-found success, especially a UK artist finding his feet in America. One critique of Sing, however, would be that despite being a Justin Timberlake impression, it lacks the sex appeal and charm of Justin Timberlake.
“I’m a Mess” is a bit more of an anthem then Sheeran’s usually dry and dreary, acoustic guitar-backed style and “Don’t” is also a bit funkier, but a majority of the tracks come across as bland songs about ex’s, at least from an outsider’s perspective, and don’t really do too much to widen his audience. Ed has said in an interview with The Telegraph that he is an “acoustic balladeer who sings soppy love songs to teenage girls” to outsiders and that he understands this analysis of him from people who don’t listen to him because it’s something he can do “quite well”. But he also said this album was a step outside of his comfort zone, which shows on a few tracks and is lacking in others.
“Nina” finds Ed choosing his vocation over a lady friend, whilst “The Man” sees him questioning if being successful is worth it if you have nobody to share it with, which is a common battle for musicians, but adds a layer a majority of the others seem to lack.
Coincidentally, “The Man” (which is reminiscient of the Streets’ leading man Mike Skinner) is up there with “Runaway” as a stand out track (outside of Sing), both of which pay homage to his love of urban music and show that, when he experiments a little with his sound, Sheeran can really make great music. And “Afire Love” deserves some recognition for tackling Alzheimer’s and closing the album on such a personal song will leave the listeners feeling better at the end than they were at the beginning. Despite this the album doesn’t have a song that hits the level of “The A Team” and x doesn’t really improve much on what Ed did on +, even with the signs of experimentation, which might show that Ed’s moving in the right direction, albeit slowly.
To sum it all up, this isn’t the album where Sheeran hits his stride, but there are signs that he just might hit it with his next album.