I wasn’t really watching Ed Sheeran’s music video because I was a fan of his music- I was just curious to see Rupert Grint (of the Harry Potter films) star in it. But after a few minutes of the Lego House music video, I was paying more attention to Sheeran’s song than I was to the actor.
The 22-year-old British musician had previously been unheard of in the States (though he’d been making music and touring in England since 2005), but the music video for Lego House got him worldwide attention, and turned me onto Sheeran’s studio debut, + (which was released in 2011). That fall, I listened to the album non-stop; Sheeran’s sweet vocals, beautiful songs and personal lyrics struck a chord with me, and he quickly became one of my favorite new artists.
The disc opens with the lead single off the album, The A Team. Sheeran’s music can best be described as acoustic pop; the majority of his tracks feature upbeat, catchy choruses, backed with acoustic guitar. The stripped back production is great (Jake Gosling, whom has also worked with One Direction, is credited as the album’s producer, alongside Sheeran) – giving Sheeran’s music an organic, intimate feel, which is a nice contrast to the majority of the synth-heavy, computerized music you generally hear on Top 40 stations now. The A Team has that low-fi feel to it, and the track is a peppy, cheerful number, creating a great start to the album.
One of the things I instantly enjoyed about Sheeran’s music was his cleverly-written lyrics. All of the songs on the album were written by Sheeran and only feature a small amount of co-writers, so I’m assuming the tongue-in-cheek vibe that several of the songs carry is very indicative of Sheeran’s personality. Drunk opens with the brilliant line, “I wanna be drunk when I wake up/On the right side of the wrong bed”, and then swirls into a sort of drinking anthem (it even has hand claps during the sing-a-long chorus). The song is completely fun, and a clear stand out on the disc.
Wake Me Up appears as the first ballad on the album. The quiet production is simply made of a few piano bars and Sheeran’s soothing voice, leaving more emphasis on the adorable lyrics of an unconventional romance (“And you should never cut your hair/’Cause I love the way you flick it off your shoulder/And you will never know, just how beautiful you are to me/But maybe I’m just in love when you wake me up.”). Another mid-tempo ballad follows, though Small Bump isn’t a typical love song, and is interestingly about friend’s miscarriage, instead. The downtrodden subject matter is elegantly tackled in this emotional, heartfelt song, and Sheeran’s vocal delivery is appropriately delicate and somber.
The aforementioned single, Lego House, is another of the album’s highlights. The verses are mostly lost in the quiet guitar and piano melody, but the song picks up the by catchy chorus, where Sheeran’s vocals flow so quickly that he’s nearly rapping. The lyrics are particularly memorable (“I’m out of touch, I’m out of love/I’ll pick you up when you’re getting down/And of all these things I’ve done I think I love you better now”), and all in all, the song is a nearly-perfect pop song.
Sheeran actually does do some rapping in You Need Me, I Don’t Need You. During my first listen of this album, I remembered making comparisions with Sheeran’s musical style to John Mayer and Jason Mraz, and he definitely seems like the latter on this track- the white-boy-rapping-over-an-acoustic-pop-song was something that I thought only Mraz could master. However, Sheeran sounds pretty convincing in this song, as he sings about how he’s made his own success in the music business. And you do have to give it to him- before he was even 20, Sheeran had released numerous self-funded EPs, had toured all over the UK, and was homeless for the majority of it, before being discovered by Jamie Foxx. He’s a true rags-to-riches story. I’m not a big fan of bravado, but Sheeran deserves a brag during this song, and he even manages to throw a few humourous zingers in (“They say I’m up-and-coming like I’m f–king in an elevator” is my personal favorite).
The album ends on a strong note with Kiss Me and Give Me Love. The first of the two songs is an amourous ballad, and though the lyrics do border on being a bit syrupy at times (“My heart’s against your chest, your lips pressed to my neck/I’m falling for your eyes, but they don’t know me yet”), I can attest to this being the perfect soundtrack for anyone who’s in love (or falling in love, as I was during the time this CD was released). If the saccahrine sentiment is too much for you, at least listen to the song for the killer (albiet brief) guitar solo toward the end.
Give Me Love almost plays like an inspirational ballad- but not in a corny, We Are The World sort of way- more in the fact that the song again fades into a anthem-like chous and you can’t help but sing along. You’ve really got to give it up to Sheeran for his ability to write a catchy hook, because the chorus of this song almost always gets stuck in my head, even hours after listening. Sheeran’s soft tone is at display here, and his voice melts over the quiet, acoustic guitar-based melody like honey. However, the real highlight of the song is nearly six minutes in, when the track fades into a hidden song- The Parting Glass– a traditional Scottish/Irish song, which Sheeran sings acappella. Though his voice has been incredibly pleasant throughout the disc, his vocal ability is really highlighted in this song, as Sheeran easily tackles the key changes in the melodic folk tune. Sheeran’s hushed harmonies in the background sound like a soft lullaby, and the gorgeous song ends the album on an absolutely stunning note.
Ed Sheeran’s debut album is nearly flawless. Though not every song on the album is a standout, the majority of the disc is, and even the less memorable tracks are easy to listen to. + is the perfect acoustic pop/rock album, and I’m ready to bet that Sheeran’s career is only going to get better from here on out.