Music Reviews

Ed Sheeran X

(Asylum Records/Atlantic Records) Rating - 5/10

Ever since the success of The A Team, a cryptic ode to a drug-addicted prostitute that left swarms of young girls sighing in his wake, Ed Sheeran has displayed a most intriguing knack for duplicity. It begins with his lovelorn singer-songwriter persona--from his baby-faced smile to that tender, unassuming gaze, he appears primed to fit a mold too marketable to be broken in this age of sold-out Taylor Swift concerts and overplayed schmaltzfests à la Passenger’s ‘’Let Her Go’’ . To the uncritical listener, Sheeran churns out love songs, romanticizing the woes of tormented relationships and raspily crooning bad metaphors over heartstring-tugging guitar chords. Perhaps that was so on 2011’s +. But now, as much as Sheeran seems to understand the power of a tousled head of hair, there is a spirit to his music that doesn’t quite conform to the packaging, so that even when he duets with Ms. Swift and collaborates with Pharrell, he remains an inch away from being just another poster on your daughter’s wall.

This year’s effort, X (read as ‘’multiply’’), sounds a great deal more cohesive than his debut. Thankfully Sheeran does not try to describe a crackhead’s life as something that is ‘’crumbling like pastry’’ (he does however, ask that his girl put her ‘’faith in his stomach’’ on I’m A Mess. A rather baffling request, we must say). Silly lyrics aside, the bulk of X is divided between drawn-out guitar ballads and rhythmic, hip hop-inflected numbers. The former cater to the more sensitive lot, featuring heartfelt strumming and melodies that alternate between lilting (One, Tenerife Sea) and sweepingly dramatic (Photograph), recalling both Damien Rice and Robbie Williams. Though charmingly lo-fi and sure to satisfy any enamoured female fan, most of these tracks drag on too long without any payoff.

If anything, Sheeran is at his most fascinating during his livelier songs, when his youth-in-the-street charisma provides just the right amount of spice to what would be a very saccharine record without offending the sensibilities of his fanbase. Lead single Sing sounds like a Happy and Blurred Lines pastiche, but just before he overstays his welcome as a producer, Pharrell redeems himself on the groovily chill Runaway which, to the 21st century cool kid, sounds like the perfect soundtrack to an afternoon by the pool with friends. Sheeran teams up with Rick Rubin and Benny Blanco on Don’t, a catchy diss song aimed at an unfaithful girlfriend (allegedly Ellie Goulding). The Man showcases him rapping plaintively about the consequences of success and lamenting the end of an old relationship.

Of course, he still knows on which side his bread is buttered. Supposedly, after hearing a taxi driver’s concern for his daughter’s ears, Sheeran expunged all the curse words from the album, leaving us with a momentary blip of silence during the chorus of Don’t (thanks bud). Yet even while he croons, emotes and poses for cute headshots, there is something gritty about Ed Sheeran, his rise to fame, the resigned softness of his singing. You won’t find it in those BRIT school graduates or X-Factor winning boybands, but you can sense it redeeming the record at just the right moments. Here’s hoping that those glints of unglamorous honesty remain in Sheeran’s music, even if the hordes of screaming girls and the tedium of snoozy torch songs try to drown them out first.