x Album Review
Released June 20, 2014
Genre: Pop, R&B, Acoustic Soul, Singer-Songwriter-Wallpaper-Starbucks-Music, Rap?
Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran burst onto the music scene a mere three years ago offering softly spoken ballads of heartache, drugs, and everyday drama. It wasn’t his music that got my attention at first, but the lyrics. Little did I know that Sheeran’s Top 40 hit “The A Team” , a radio ready single, was all about a crack addict. A weighty topic for a singer aimed at tweens/teens. Yet I listened and found a unique if not likeable personality, limited by his music style but creative and passionate through his voice and lyrics. I wasn’t necessarily considered ” a fan” but I kept a tab on him, interested in how he would progress. Would he take his music to the next level creatively? What about his lyrics? Would they be more gut wrenching and saddening than before?
The corporate music industry can be a real b*tch sometimes, turning even the most earnest of artists into radio friendly puppets. And that’s exactly what happens on x. As producer, who else other than 2013 wonder-hit-maker Pharrell Williams, producing the gaudy and cringe worthy “Sing” an incredibly weak and horrid lead single that sees Sheeran abandoning his gentle acoustic strums for an upbeat and “fun” song that radio stations will eat up in seconds. This isn’t an improvement, it’s an example of selling out, complete with generic lyricism and instrumentation. (Example: See Coldplay‘s “A Sky Full Of Stars”)
Thankfully x isn’t fully of gaudy acoustic-rap-soul songs (except “Take It Back”, probably one of the worst songs on the album), Sheeran has some strong moments on this latest release of his. There’s the passionately sung “I’m A Mess”, and the earnest “Photograph”, and soulful balladry of “Thinking Out Loud”, the latter finding Sheeran’s most romantic and heartfelt moment on the album. Even the track “Bloodstream” impressed me of its topical coverage of MDMA and its interesting song structure.
However, my love for this album stops there. X is easy on the ears, meant for listeners who like their music light, breezy, and unadventurous.The only place I can find myself listening to these songs is in a Starbucks because these songs can only be described as basic coffee shop background music: light and catchy enough to grab your attention for only a few minutes. Not even the lyrics grab my attention now. Sheeran’s songwriting has been dumbed down from being about provocative yet powerful topics to songs about hooking up or melodramatic situations (“Nina”).
Now before your criticize me for my biased nature of singer songwriter music, hear me out. Earlier this year I stumbled upon an oddball of a singer-songwriter album titled Benji by Sun Kil Moon. The instrumentation is exactly what Sheeran does, but pay attention to the lyrics. Sun Kil Moon makes up for the lackadaisical instrumentation with strong, compelling lyricism. I’m not saying that Sun Kil Moon is better, nor am I saying that Sheeran should copy him also, I’m just saying that Sun Kil Moon has a much more interesting personality. (See PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, The Tallest Man On Earth, Jeff Buckley, Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, Mac DeMarco and Paul Simon for more options in the singer-songwriter genre).
To say it bluntly, I didn’t find this record interesting. I see the appeal and the likeability of it, but I’m just left completely underwhelmed and bored by Sheeran’s personality and songwriting. Because let’s face it: Sheeran is capable of so much more. While this record is spinning in the coffee shops, I’m taking the drive thru because there isn’t anything worth to revisit.
FAV TRACKS: I’m A Mess, Thinking Out Loud, Even My Dad Does Sometimes
LEAST FAV TRACKS: Sing, Runaway, Take It Back, Shirtsleeves