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ALBUM REVIEW by Mo Jamma

Artist: Ed Sheeran

Released: 20 June 2014 (Asylum Records UK)

Genre: Pop, R&B

Length: 50:23

Conception

Ed Sheeran’s second album emulates artists such as TV on the Radio and James Vincent McMarrow by switching music genres. 2011’s + (his debut album, pronounced “plus”) was a concoction of wistful folk ballads and indie pop antics. His chance meeting with Jamie Foxx had launched him to stardom following a “rough patch” in the UK at the start of 2010 – Sheeran had been sleeping on friends’ sofas and performing live in open-mic nights across London.

Most of the music for x (pronounced “multiply”) was written during Snow Patrol’s Fallen Empires Tour in 2012. Sheeran had joined them during the North American tour and sat down with the band’s pianist Johnny McDaid to whip up some tracks. Tourmate and fellow singer-songwriter Foy Vance also co-wrote a number of potential songs for the album. Sheeran made the wise choice to delay the album’s release in 2012, following in the footsteps of Adele and One Direction, who had already “broken America” with their monumental success.

“Hundreds” of songs were written and then whittled down to just 15. The album was released on 20 June 2014 to critical acclaim and it’s not hard to see why. Sheeran had evolved and some of the music is a little edgier than before, but how does it hold up to +?

Production

Sheeran had written “One” during 2011 along with a bonus track. The conveniently named song is the album’s opener, a swooning love ballad about unrequited love. An acoustic sequel to a song from + about a love interest. The gentle rhythm and heartbreaking lyrics express a nostalgic longing for this mysterious object that Sheeran idolises. “One” is the bridge between the old Ed and the new one.

“I’m a Mess” is a fast-paced acoustic song about his then-girlfriend and his mistakes. It’s a fairly neat composition with great vocal deliveries from Sheeran, especially around the chorus sections. The reverberating howls of “For how long, long I love my lover (I feel it all over now)/ now and I feel loved” are exciting and prepare us for the album’s first single and major highlight.

With “Sing” Ed Sheeran further catapulted himself into stardom. The song’s R&B flow is unusual for Sheeran. His vocals are reminiscent of Justin Timberlake. The song combines elements of pop and hip-hop as Sheeran does the unexpected: he raps. While the rap is a unique touch, it felt a little lacklustre. The song is best viewed through the music video it generated: Sheeran, in puppet form, goes for a night out, picking up strippers, performing karaoke with Japanese businessmen, and getting drunk.

“Don’t” continues the hip-hop and R&B vibe. Sheeran’s upbeat rapping and choral harmony is balanced out against the dark theme of a cheating ex-girlfriend. It was later confirmed that the mystery girl is Ellie Goulding. Sheeran was talked out of removing the song from the album since it’s the strongest composition beside “Sing”.

Things become somewhat sad again with “Nina”. The story here is about a break-up. The piano riff that opens the track and returns during each chorus is an exquisite detail. It’s usage is contrasted alongside the bittersweet lyrics about parting ways, “But you’ll be in between forever so I guess we’ll have to take a step back/Overlook the situation ’cause mixing business and feelings will only lead to complications/And I’m not saying we should be taking a break/Just revaluate quick before we make a mistake and it’s too late”. The song was co-written with McDaid.

McDaid also co-wrote “Photograph”, a so-called timeless ballad, beginning life as a piano loop that Sheeran began singing to. A mini-epic set in New York with thundering drums that project the image of a wintry romance, “Photograph” was the track that Sheeran felt sure would sell the album had the other songs failed in doing so. He was proven wrong in the end since the track is yet another highlight from an already impressive album.

The remaining songs are potent enough in and of themselves: “Bloodstream” is about an ecstasy experience during a friend’s wedding; “Tenerife Sea” is a metaphor for his mother’s crystal blue eyes; “Runaway” carries on the R&B/Timberlake direction; “The Man” imagines a failed relationship and its relation to the music industry; “Thinking Out Loud” is a soul song about his then-girlfriend; his grandfather is remembered in “Afire Love”; “Take It Back” is rap song about Sheeran’s personal struggles and rise to fame; the aforementioned “I See Fire” found its way into the soundtrack of The Hobbit.

Design

x‘s artwork comes in green and black. A bright green colour envelopes the sleeves and black linework is forever engraved in an endless open space. The actual physical copies come in a jewel green case which is a nice treat and helps x to stand out.

Versions and Pricing

x can be purchased from various outlets, both online and offline. The deluxe edition CD costs £11.79 (roughly $17.97) on Amazon and the digital version costs £8.53 ($12.99) on iTunes. Prices may vary from other retailers.

The digital version of the deluxe edition contains four additional tracks: “Take It Back”, “Shirtsleeves”, “Even My Dad Does Sometimes”, and “I See Fire”. The physical version of the deluxe edition contains another additional track, “All of The Stars”.

 Conclusion

x is a remarkable album and a surprising turnaround from the earlier works of Ed Sheeran. Some fans of + will feel alienated ever since Sheeran abandoned his indie pop and folk roots. However, x should not be overlooked. It’s a mighty record and the songs will stay with you until the very next Sheeran outing.

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