Album Review: X by Ed Sheeran
It is no small feat to overtake Daft Punk as Spotify’s most streamed album (in the UK) in a single week. Yet Ed Sheeran has done just that with his new offering X (read as multiply).
Sheeran has come a long way from singing about Lego houses in surreal videos starring his doppelganger Rupert Grint. Having said that, the singer unapologetically sticks to his tried and tested formula of simple arrangements accompanied by heart-wrenching lyrics, flawlessly delivered in a gentle croon. After all, why fix what isn’t broken? The ballads on X are probably his strongest yet, aiming straight at the hearts of hopeless romantics all over the world and hitting bulls-eye without even breaking a sweat.
Admittedly, this includes yours truly. I am not at all ashamed of rolling around on my bed listening to tracks like Thinking Out Loud doing what girls on Tumblr would call a ‘squee’*. Highlights include the aforementioned Thinking Out Loud, which instantly reminds one of Jason Mraz’s I Won’t Give Up. The track is a straight-up classic love song, one you might want to have your first wedding dance to. With lines such as “Take me into your loving arms/kiss me under the light of a thousand suns”, it is easy to imagine the rush and flush of pure unadulterated happiness. It’s the perfect pick-up. Photograph is another home run, with the singer even going so far as to say that it would be the track on the album most likely to “change his career path“. Tenerife Sea’s gentle wash of acoustic guitar is indeed reflective of waves, and the simple murmur of “So in love/so in love” is excruciatingly effective.
However, what is truly surprising is how the 23-year-old has approached the other end of the emotional spectrum. Sheeran displays resentment, bitterness and sexual longing in X like never before. These emotions are reflected in the biting track Don’t, which pairs an instantly catchy beat of hand claps with frank lyrics about a cheating girlfriend. “Don’t f*** with my love“, he spits, and one can’t help but cringe as the plot thickens, revealing sordid details of a brief fling gone wrong. Perhaps Sheeran’s friendship with tour-mate Taylor Swift has encouraged the singer to emulate a more confessional approach to his songwriting. After all, Don’t is reminiscent of Swift’s anthem for the jilted, Better Than Revenge. What better therapy for cheating partners than writing incredibly successful singles about them?
The singer continues to experiment with hip-hop and rap influences in tracks such as Runaway and Take It Back. In his trademark self-deprecating style he confesses “I’m not a rapper/I’m a singer with a flow“, and still manages to impress with just the right level of snark and soul. For me, these tracks were less enjoyable, but it may be due to how different it was to the cathartic bliss of the ballads on X. Tracks like Sing do stick out like a sore thumb, not at all due to a dip in quality, but because it is likely to work better as a collaborative side-project with producer Pharrell.
The top highlight of X is undoubtedly Sheeran’s most personal track, Afire Love. Similar in style to the building crescendos of I’m A Mess and Give Me Love off his debut offering +, ‘Afire Love’ can be the litmus test for the stone-hearted. The tale of the singer’s grandfather’s decline from Alzheimer’s is supplemented by the Notebook-style epic love his grandfather had for his grandmother. It’s a song of simultaneous grief and hope, and is a fitting moving tribute.
Have you listened to X? Which is your favourite track?
* (Urban Dictionary definition: ‘a noise primarily made by an over-excited fan-girl. For accuracy’s sake, it sounds more like ‘squeeeeeeeeeee!’)