June 20, 2014 11:15 am

Ed Sheeran: x – review

The boyish balladeer of old returns, bigger and slicker but without compromising the singer’s open manner
 

The scruff from Suffolk who hit the road with his acoustic guitar to build up a fan base the old-fashioned way now has a clutch of Brit awards and a US top five album to his name. Taylor Swift is a pal, Elton John offers career advice, Rick Rubin produces him and Pharrell Williams co-writes songs with him. Has it all gone to Ed Sheeran’s head?

The attempt to channel Justin Timberlake on the Pharrell-assisted “Sing” might suggest so – but actually the song turns out to be charming and unforced, a natural blend of Sheeran’s acoustic pop and Williams’ precisely syncopated funk. Elsewhere the boyish balladeer of old returns, bigger and slicker (Johnny McDaid of Snow Patrol’s co-writing fingerprints are all over “Photograph”) but without compromising Sheeran’s open manner. “Sorry for the honesty, but I had to get this off my chest,” he semi-raps in “The Man”, addressing an ex-girlfriend left behind by fame: the song’s sentiments are a peculiar mix of insecurity, arrogance and neediness, as ambivalent about celebrity as about the ex.

The Van Morrison-goes-Jack Johnson blandishments of “Thinking Out Loud” show how fame might yet bland out Sheeran, but “Don’t” is the antidote: an R&B hand-clapper about being cuckolded in a relationship with a fellow pop star (“Me and her, we make money the same way/Four cities, two planes, the same day”), catchy as anything but with a streak of steel.


Ed Sheeran

x

(Asylum Records)

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