Ed Sheeran is an artist that never seems to leave the airwaves and considering his last studio album was in 2014 (I write this on the first day of 2017) he has done extremely well and not conformed to any trend in the current charts.
After the massive success of his first album”+” Sheeran returned with his second studio album “X”. This follows the same style and theme of his debut with the mantra clearly being ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’.
What Sheeran has done on this album is tapped further into the slushy and sentimental nature that people enjoy but are generally too afraid to convey in public. It’s not ’emo’ it’s just brutally honest. Sometimes I feel it is as if Sheeran is trying to hard to get this feeling of emotional honesty over and I cannot believe this is how he really would like to be portrayed.
The album opens with “One” which is a extreme sentimental acoustic ballad about Sheeran breaking up with a girl and telling her that she is the only one for him and hopefully they will still stay friends. Whilst I get that this situation is relateable in a sense it feels like just too much honesty hitting me in the face. It’s almost a little cringy and you want to sort of just say to him “calm down now mate”.
“I’m A Mess” musically doesn’t offer much more than the opener with Sheeran playing his acoustic guitar. Sheeran again is talking about a relationship that is going through the motions and he is drinking to suppress the pain that he is feeling. The song melodically is certainly more enjoyable than the openers and doesn’t feel as long.
For the last minute the choir like backing vocals that Sheeran has displayed on a few of his previous tracks is a winner for me as it gives the song a fullness that some of the tracks lack.
“Sing” never feels empty and this is the track Sheeran came back with as a first single from his 2nd set. It is produced by Pharrell Williams as Sheeran showed further indication that he had ‘made it’. The song is a winner because it gives something more to an Ed Sheeran song without losing the acoustic feel. The drums and bass in the chorus are welcome and there was a song on his debut album “Grade 8” which did similar things and was highly enjoyable.
The only issue with the song is Sheeran’s rapping. When he does rap it is one of those moments where I look around me and wonder why no one else finds his rapping ‘skills’ embarrassing.
Still “Sing” is a top track and gave Sheeran something else in his locker.
“Don’t” is an enjoyable track but as someone who love my music if you have heard “Don’t Mess With My Man” by Lucy Pearl then you cannot help but notice the similarities and I cannot believe there wasn’t a challenge made for a songwriting credit.
Regardless I do like this song. It’s interesting in it’s content and when you have further information about the back story (apparently it’s about singer Ellie Goulding) and that Sheeran was keen on this girl and whilst they slept together Sheeran felt more for her but she was not feeling that way for him. In conclusion she slept with a friend of his on the same hotel floor. Harsh.
The thing is Sheeran is angry on this song but you don’t really believe it. Naturally he has to be annoyed at this situation despite it all sounding a little juvenile.
“Nina” is engaging lyrically as he talks about a relationship that is suffering because of his work and that he his away so often. He clearly doesn’t want to end it with this girl but he does want it to end and hopes she will leave him.
He is brutally honest with her and states that he does not put his career above his friends or family but she is somewhere in between and always be.
Musically we have an introduction of a piano which at least mixes up the production style.
“Photograph” is the 7th track on the album. This lyrically loosely connected to “Nina” as he using the literal term of a photograph as a way to keep him close to her. The song like many on the album is about his career and how he is essentially struggling to keep his personal relationships going.
This is a pretty song. I think that is the best way to describe it because it’s sentiment is difficult to dislike. Melodically it is catchy and whether you know the words or not it is easy to hum along to. Vocally he doesn’t really push things forward on this song and that is something I think he needs to explore in other songs.
“Bloodstream” is a song I first heard on the album by UK band ‘Rudimental’. The version on their album ( We The Generation – Rudimental (2015)) has a drum and bass section for the final couple of minutes. This version is simply an acoustically produced effort but I do like this song because Sheeran sounds as his most soulful which I believe he lack despite the clear desperation to do so.
Again the choir like layering of his vocals and backing vocals in the last 90 seconds are really enjoyable. The song is engaging and whilst I prefer the version on the Rudimental album this is still a great song and the best on this album.
“Tenerife Sea” is a lovely track and all but how no one has mentioned that the tune is exactly the same as “I’m With You” by Avril Lavigne I really don’t know. Just listen to the start of both songs and tell me i’m wrong.
This song is another Sheeran attempt at a wedding song. He did this with “Kiss Me” on his first album and he will do it again on this album in a few tracks time (and more successfully). You can’t hate this track because to hate this track would be to hate little puppies and sick babies. It just isn’t something I want to be around too often.
“Runaway” is a track that at this point is so required. It’s finally something with a bassline and a bit of funk. Produced by Pharrell Williams this track shows that Sheeran can step away from his trademark balladry to give something a bit more danceable and whilst I am not surprised that this wasn’t a single I would have liked to see how this would have gone down with the Sheeran buying public.
“The Man” is the 10th track and it is just horrible. Sheeran decides that he should rap. It’s not even spoken word rap like The Streets, it is a real attempt to rap. The breathing from Sheeran (which has always bugged me) is so evident in this song as he takes a massive gasp at every attempt in his rap.
I like the chorus but then it’s a chorus that would have been better suited if he was a guest on an actual rappers song. The beat is good, the whole production is on point but please Ed – stop with this rapping because its just not good.
“Thinking Out Loud” is a song that will cement Ed Sheeran as a star for the rest of time. No matter what he brings out subsequently this song will his signature tune and it’s not hard to see why as he hits every point needed to create a timeless pop ballad.
Vocally he sounds great, musically it’s simply but lyrically it is heartfelt and genuine.
And darling I will be loving you ’til we’re 70
And baby my heart could still fall as hard at 23
And I’m thinking ’bout how people fall in love in mysterious ways
Maybe just the touch of a hand
Oh me I fall in love with you every single day
And I just wanna tell you I am
I can only imagine how many first dances at weddings this song will be used for.
“Afire Love” is the final track on the album as I am not going to review any deluxe versions but the actual project as it was meant to be heard.
The song is about his grandfather who was suffering with Alzheimers. The subject is obviously drenched in sadness and the melody he creates really pulls at the heartstrings with the exposed piano moments making the song a real punch to the gut.
Things were all good yesterday
Then the devil took your breath away
Now we’re left here in the pain
Black suit black tie standing in the rain
A moving tribute to his grandfather and whilst the song is about the pain of this loss Sheeran also addresses that this has brought his family together also.
Ed Sheeran has a formula and I don’t expect him to change it any time soon. This formula does not make him mildy successful but it makes him one of the biggest artists on the planet. No one is as successful at doing what he does despite so many trying since he came to the forefront of the charts in 2011.
There isn’t much in terms of interesting production but there are a number of songs which his storytelling comes across as interesting despite it being a little overly sweet at times.
This is a bigger album in terms of scale of tracks than his first album but it will be interesting to see what he will do on his upcoming 3rd album. Where will he decide as an artist to go – risk alienating fans or continue to do the same thing?