Ed Sheeran returns with his long awaited sophomore album, X, or Multiply to give it its proper title. As expected, we are treated to an array of ballads, pop hits, and rap-infused treats.
Admittedly, I, like many of his fans, was excited to see what Sheeran could produce that would better +, and felt both excited and a bit cheated by the track-by-track release in the week leading up to the album’s release. Why? It felt a bit like The Simpson’s Movie trailer all over again. Excitement produced by the best bits, which took away the surprise generated by waiting for almost three years.
X is hit and miss in places. Beginning very slowly with ‘One’ and ‘I’m A Mess’, it seems to prescribe just what the fans wanted: Sheeran and a guitar. However, ‘One’ feels slightly overproduced through its simplicity, only pulling this back when the harmonies come in, and ‘I’m A Mess’ seems designed to prove that he can achieve those power-house vocals; albeit at a fairly comatose pace.
It’s not all negative though: X does grow in strength throughout. ‘Sing’, the irresistibly catchy anthem which gained Sheeran his first UK number one creates pace, which is sustained through ‘Don’t’. Sheeran demonstrates his fantastic songwriting talents consistently, and his stark honesty about his fears of death through addiction, and his take on love and relationships is refreshing in a music industry where drug culture is glorified and women are constantly thrown between disparaging remarks and backhanded compliments. At times this can seem scathing, particularly in ‘Don’t’ and ‘The Man’, but the communication of his hurt does seem to be hollowed out by his focus on getting in as many words as possible.
‘Runaway’ and ‘Photograph’ are the most reminiscent of + due to their storytelling style, with the latter sounding like a slower version of ‘Small Bump’, but lacking the depth of the tale of the lost child. ‘Tenerife Sea’ shows a development in Sheeran’s style, and also sees him playing to his strengths in terms of romantic ballads designed to slowly melt the hearts of his female fans with lyrics like “Should this be the last thing I see, I want you to know it’s enough for me. ‘Cause all that you are is all that I’ll ever need”. Its lilting melodies and sweet sentiment are likely to make it a fan favourite alongside ‘Bloodstream’ when performed live.
The stand-out track of the album is surely the closer of the standard edition, ‘Afire Love’. A haunting recollection of the last moments of a lost grandparent evokes the emotion and passion that is missing in the majority of X, and the bittersweet tale of his grandparents’ lost love creates a strength that even + was lacking. This passion is carried on throughout the remaining tracks in the Deluxe Edition (excluding those selected for movie soundtracks), and leads us to question why the strongest tracks were left off of the standard edition.
Overall, a commendable return from Ed Sheeran, which will surely prove its critics wrong when X takes to the stage and Sheeran can perform the tracks in the setting that they were designed for.
X is available to download now via Atlantic Records.