I’m a big fan of English singer-songwriter, Ed Sheeran’s debut album, “+.” When it came out in 2011, I listened to it repeatedly and it became a soundtrack to my life at the time. In fact, I can scarcely hear those songs without thinking about my life then; many fond memories are attached to that album, and it always makes me feel nostalgic.
So when I heard that Sheeran was releasing the album’s follow-up, “X” (pronounced as “Multiply”), I was obviously thrilled. I was expecting more sensitive, acoustic ballads and sweet, romantic lyrics…and while “X” does have a bit of that, the album is also blatant proof that Sheeran has evolved as a musician in the past three years.
The disc opens with the sort of acoustic ballad you’d expect, “One.” The sweet lyrics would fit in perfectly on Sheeran’s debut (“Just promise me, you’ll always be a friend/’Cause you are the only one”), but the song isn’t terribly exciting. Mid-tempo pop song, “I’m A Mess” follows and features more acoustic guitar, but the upbeat melody begs the listener to at least tap their feet along to the song’s beat.
The album’s tempo just seems to pick up more as it goes on, especially by the time we reach the first single, “Sing.” The song is the first example of the departures Sheeran’s made on this album; this track is less guitar-rock and more pop-rock, and though Sheeran sounds a bit like a Justin Timberlake impersonator, the track is undeniably catchy.
However, I’m not afraid to say it: second single, “Don’t” is a better song than “Sing.” Featuring a sample from a Raphael Saadiq song (“Don’t Mess With My Man”), production from rap mogul Rick Rubin, and lyrics about a love gone wrong (“Don’t f— with my love”), the song is slick, sexy, and everything I never would’ve expected from Sheeran.
Sheeran has a few more tricks up his sleeve on the album. It took me three listens, repeated checks of his Wikipedia page, and a Google search to finally believe that the rapper on “The Man” was actually Sheeran, himself. We’ve heard Sheeran rap before on his debut album, but his Jason Mraz-esque rhymes were pretty tame compared to this song. On this track about the struggles of life and fame (“The irony is if my career and music didn’t exist/In 6 years, yeah, you’d probably be my wife with a kid/I’m frightened to think if I depend on cider and drink/And lighting a spliff I fall into a spiral”), Sheeran’s rap game is really solid. I’m not saying he could win a rap battle against Eminem or anything, but he could definitely win one against Macklemore.
The rest of the album has its highs and lows. The middle of the album is comprised of mostly acoustic-only songs, which will guarantee Sheeran doesn’t alienate any of his old fans. “Nina” is a snappy little number about a quirky relationship, but I feel like we’ve already heard this same exact song from Sheeran before. Soulful number, “Runaway”, fares much better, and I’m sure that Sheeran could put out a legitimate R&B album should he ever want to; he’s definitely got the soulful vocals to do so. The album’s third single, “Thinking Out Loud” is a saccharine love ballad, which still, somehow, manages to be charming.
The album comes to a close with a beautiful ballad titled, “Afire Love.” Sheeran definitely has a nice set of pipes on him; lest you forget, just take a listen to this song. Also worth noting are the heartfelt lyrics about Sheeran’s grandfather’s fight with dementia (“Things were all good yesterday/And then the devil took your memory…/And my father told me, son/It’s not his fault he doesn’t know your face.”)
Though the standard album ends with “Afire Love”, I’d honestly recommend buying the Deluxe Edition. Four more songs are added, including the emotional ballad,“Even My Dad Does Sometimes” and another rap song, “Take It Back.” Even Sheeran’s song for the Hobbit film, “I See Fire” is included. Usually, I’m not fussed over deluxe versions of albums, but this is one I’d certainly recommend.
Obviously, Ed Sheeran was out to push the boundaries on what you’d expect from a singer-songwriter on this album, and he does just that. Though “X” explores many different styles of music, Sheeran manages to weave it all together effortlessly and hops from genre to genre while still maintaining who he is as a person and artist. I don’t know if I can say I love this album more than “+”, but it’s been on heavy rotation since it’s release, so that must say something.
2. I’m a Mess
8. Tenerife Sea
10. The Man
11. Thinking Out Loud
12. Afire Love
13. Take It Back
15. Even My Dad Does Sometimes
16. I See Fire