Pitchfork Rating: 3.5/5
Some artists produce a dozen albums without reaching the level of fame British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has managed on the back of his 2011 debut: “+” (pronounced “plus”).
Some combination of the intense popularity of the album’s debut single, “The A Team,” and Sheeran’s ability to mix soft vocals with wry rapping made the singer a household name, and now he’s back to remind us all of how he infiltrated the airwaves years ago with a new record: “x” (pronounced “multiply”).
Does this new album hold up against the success of “+” or does it fall flat, repeating the same old tricks?
News about an upcoming album reached fever pitch for Sheeran with the release of the record’s lead single, “Sing.” Armed with a guitar and his trademark vocal tricks, Sheeran worked with “Happy” hitmaker Pharrell Williams to craft a folksy hip-hop song that is perfect for blasting at home or while in the car.
As with many albums, though, the lead single is far from the best song on “x.” The record kicks off with the quiet, heartfelt love song that is “The One.”
Sheeran shows off his ability to write unquestionably straightforward lyrics on this track with a chorus that begins, “All my senses come to life / While I’m stumbling home as drunk as I / Have ever been and I’ll never leave again / ‘Cause you are the only one.”
Still, it isn’t until after “The One,” that listeners come across the album’s first standout track, the seemingly innocent “I’m A Mess.” A melancholy intro gives way to a track that builds upon itself, layer after layer of sharp guitar riffs, darkly self-aware vocals and the kind of chorus that you’ll find yourself humming for days afterward.
That same, in-your-face attitude is heard on “Don’t,” a fantastic stomp-clap anthem that signifies Sheeran’s unwillingness to be labeled as a simple English crooner. Just because he can write a top-notch love song doesn’t mean he’ll always play nice. That is evident with lyrics like, “I met this girl late last year / She said don’t you worry if I disappear / I told her I’m not really looking for another mistake.”
Sprinkled throughout “x” are a whole host of forgettable tracks, however. The mid-album ballads “Nina,” “Tenerife Sea” and “Thinking Out Loud” don’t match up to the much stronger “Bloodstream,” “Runaway,” and “The Man,” wherein Sheeran appeals to his cynicism and produces something sharper, snarkier and, ultimately, more dangerous.
Be it musically or lyrically, the songs on “x” all fall into one of two categories: outstanding or dull. Tracks like “Thinking Out Loud” or “Afire Love” are decent, showing off Sheeran’s lyricism, but despite being new songs, they sound dated and done, as if some variation of “Afire Love” has been recorded a hundred times before.
The final verdict: “x” is enjoyable enough, but it’s inconsistent. There are plenty of catchy riffs and snarky lyrics to satisfy any Ed Sheeran fan. But what the album enjoys in hype, it lacks in collective replay value.
Don’t bother sitting down to listen to “x” from start to finish. Tune into “I’m A Mess,” “Don’t,” “Bloodstream,” and Sheeran’s other knockouts, and just leave the rest. Your ears will thank you.
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