Since Ed Sheeran released his newest album titled “X” (pronounced “multiply”), his fame has increased as the name suggests, exponentially. The unconventional pop star, known for his eclectic folk-turned-acoustic-pop genre concoctions, has struck the media again with a second album, following “+” (pronounced “plus”). This time, he delivers not in the typical, organic singer-songwriter fashion but with a groovier execution, both in content and production quality.
Loyal fans will have no problem distinguishing the British singer-songwriter by his voice and lyrical designs, but the familiarity stops there. In this album, Sheeran has switched up his heavy folk style by adding a lot more funk and jazz into the mix and shaking off the expected soft, fragile ambiance he established in “+.” Keeping his signature trademark of raw, stripped-down acoustics, the record also plays with electronic embellishments brought by star producers Rick Rubin and Pharrell Williams. This is strikingly evident in the album’s hit single, “Sing,” which reached No. 1 on U.K. charts. In the track, Sheeran toys with R&B grooves and hints of hip-hop, channeling a Justin Timberlake vibe that successfully plays across several other tracks on the album.
This time around, song themes also deviate from tender moods like those in “The A-Team” and “Lego House” in “+.” Straying from a light, friendly air, Sheeran experiments with a gritty, bad-boy image. Audiences are led through venues of young romance, reckless abandonment, and broken love, all accompanied by an intoxicated adventurer with his heart on his sleeve. Lyric-wise, Sheeran delivers with spirited efficiency; they are romantic, well-versed, and possess a confessional, story-telling tone that come together to exude an autobiographical appeal. What escapes the audience, whether it be the beat or melody, the poetic lyrics compensate for both.
The entire album mimics a theatrical play in terms of the flow rate. We’re eased into the record starting with “One,” a simple, acoustic ballad that wallows with a delicate, vulnerable atmosphere, and “I’m A Mess,” an upbeat tune crafted with powerhouse vocals. In these two tracks, Sheeran devotedly serenades a love but quickly loses the tenderness with the songs “Sing,” “Don’t” and “Nina.”
Co-written by Pharrell, “Sing” is a fun, carefree rhapsody of a “love found at a local rave” that is followed by “Don’t,” Sheeran’s cheeky recount of an unfaithful partner. Initially, both songs failed to catch my attention because of their generic pop progression, but I slowly found myself nodding my head to the catchy beats. Another collaboration, “Nina,” co-written by Johnny McDaid from Snow Patrol, incorporates Sheeran’s sing-rap that flows in a seemingly endless torrent. This jazzy track, focused on a disposable love, is easy to ignore and unmemorable in comparison to the rest of the record.
Just when you think the album’s flow gets repetitive and boring, Sheeran once again switches tempos and leads us into an acoustic intermission with “Photograph,” one of my favorite tracks. This short break revolves around a romantic simplicity describing a memoir of a lover. While Sheeran’s other tracks have a universal offbeat tempo, this one falls into a consistent beat easy to sing along to. Next up is “Bloodstream,” an admittedly interesting song that had me in awe at first. In this work, Sheeran admits to his sins whilst feeling “chemicals burn into my bloodstream,” equipped with a striking instrumental in the background. Afterwards, “Tenerife Sea” plays a tidy, generic love song with a paradisaical spice.
Kicking the mood up a notch, “Runaway” shimmies in with jazzy grooves inspired by Timberlake. Another favorite on the record, this infectious track that spites a deceitful ex had me foot-tapping and swaying to the beat. Sheeran continues his rant on unfaithful companions with “The Man,” a soulful, bluesy chime that has him sing-rapping his breath away. His English accent peeks through at some points, which adds to the old-school charm he portrays.
The record then rolls into “Thinking Out Loud,” a retro-slow ballad that combines Sheeran’s pop vocals, full of powerhouse riffs and belts, and sweet soul into a track that channels Marvin Gaye tones. As my final favorite on the album, this song veers from the produced quality or soft timbre the rest of the record encompasses and shines spotlight on Sheeran’s voice alone.
For the curtain call, “Afire Love” collects the album into a neat knot of orchestral composition. While there are a couple songs on the record that could bleed into one another, this song stands out from the rest. The track was written about Sheeran’s grandfather, who battled Alzheimer’s disease, and Sheeran successfully wraps the work into a touching memoir with his poetic words.
Having over 100,000 digital copies purchased since its release on June 23, “X” rises triumphant above Sheeran’s first album, but only because of the genre variation that Sheeran incorporated. Though there are several catchy tracks that I have added to my playlist, such as “Runaway” and “Bloodstream,” half of the record had me disinterested. That could be due to Sheeran’s rap style or how similar some of the songs sounded; nevertheless, the record maintains a lyrical artwork and soulful spirit, two factors Sheeran had yet to craft into his works until now.
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