Design By Humans
Published On: Mon, Jul 7th, 2014

Ed Sheeran: x

ed sheeranEd Sheeran
(Asylum Records)

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With his debut album, +, Ed Sheeran worked relentlessly to go from playing to small crowds in his native England to selling out massive shows around the world. For his follow up, Sheeran could have stuck to acoustic ballads with the occasional injection of hip-hop. Instead, x is the sound of a young man adjusting to the spotlight, warts and all.

Lead single “Sing” stands out with its Pharrell-soaked chorus and instant comparisons to the early solo work of Justin Timberlake. From this song alone, Sheeran shows that he’s not afraid to step outside his comfort zone. “I’m a Mess” is a catchy portrait of a relationship heading for failure, and the strain in Sheeran’s voice punches up the emotion. “Bloodstream” mixes hypnotic acoustic guitar and subtle electronic touches to create an intoxicating vibe to complement the song’s lyrics about a night of overindulgence. Half-rap track “The Man” may not be to everyone’s taste, but it reminds me of the brilliant Mike Skinner.

However, Sheeran hasn’t abandoned his soft side entirely. “Thinking Out Loud” is a romantic look at growing old with a lover. Most artists would hold back from getting too personal, but Sheeran captures heartbreak and the celebration of life in “Afire Love,” dedicated to the memory of his recently deceased grandfather.

Most of the songs on x work well, but there are a few moments where Sheeran misfires. When he sings, “Trust and respect is what we do this for” in the kiss-off track “Don’t,” the lyrics feel like an inauthentic mouthful. The choice to censor all the profanities on the album seems strange when there are mentions of sex (“Don’t”), “illegal weed” (“Nina”), and “a bottle of water filled with tequila” (“Sing”). It’s a step back from how confessional most of the album is, and x truly feels personal. Sheeran shows growth, a passion for collaboration, and bold spirit with this release.

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Ed Sheeran: x