Suffolk-born acoustic wizard Ed Sheeran’s new album has been a long time coming. Three years after his debut + was released, we are treated to new released X pronounced “multiply”. The singer-songwriter is still only 23 and unlike a lot of artists, he has enjoyed huge success between his two albums. Writing songs and performing with Taylor Swift and One Direction, Ed definitely hasn’t retreated to a recording studio in the last few years and this may be one reason why he has managed to produce a new album that is fresh and exciting.
Ed is known for his heartbroken ballads stripped of high impact instruments and filled with raw emotion. X definitely has a few tracks that are classic Sheeran but we do also see a more upbeat urban artist, reminiscent of his hit You Need Me, I Don’t Need You. It’s clear that Ed has been working with different producers and his style has altered but his existing fans will still love these tracks as a lot of them retain his raw, honest and open character.
Ed’s vocals lapse into a falsetto at several points on the album, most notably on its two singles Sing and Don’t. While some fans may dislike this change, both songs are catchy, upbeat pop tracks that are ideal for summer parties and festivals. Sing was co-written with hit-maker Pharrell Williams and Don’t was co-written with Moves Like Jagger producer Benny Blanco. Judging this album on its singles, you might be forgiven for thinking X was a new, cooler, urban Sheeran. Snappy rhythms, catchy choruses and tropical holiday beats are all over the album and we get it again on Tenerife Sea and Runaway.
Tenerife Sea has the new version of Ed in rhythm and general style but the lyrics are a beautiful declaration of love rather than a straight up party anthem. It’s a beautiful love song with atmospheric vocal runs and rippling acoustic riffs that simply wash over you, leaving you relaxed and content. Runaway is much the opposite. The strong beat and urban slant on this summer pop song back up a story of a young person running from their parents’ home due to needing space from their father. Runaway advocates that it’s OK to get your own space sometimes without completely destroying family relations. This is something that so many people can relate to and will definitely resonate with Ed’s young fans.
Bloodstream is another chilled summer track that will be perfect for festivals. A glitchy beat, urban R&B vibe and dazed style gives it a youthful, quirky sound. It’s about using alcohol and drugs to block out the pains of heartbreak and love but with a catchy hook that will certainly capture a crowd’s attention. Eerie backing vocals give it a dream-like edge while Ed’s vocals see it out. Clapping rhythms are great for summer festival tracks and Nina is fun, sing-a-long addition to the album. Pretty piano chimes keep appearing amidst the chilled beat and matter-of-fact lyrics. It sees a colder Ed to the warm, lovestruck artist we’re used to and sparks a pang of sympathy for the subject matter who appears to be in love with him despite him putting his career and success first.
X is full of slow, swaying ballads that Ed is best loved for. The opening track One is a chilled acoustic track with wispy vocals that tell a tale of a lost love that he is hoping to hold onto. Photograph is another beautiful ballad where Ed pours his heart out about a past relationship. Using the image of a photograph to preserve love and reminisce about good time is really touching and there is some lovely imagery in the lyrics that will impact anyone who has ever mourned the end of a relationship. Thinking Out Loud is perhaps the most romantic track on the album. Declaring eternal, unconditional love makes it perfect for a first dance song and the soft country twangs border the beautiful story.
Afire Love brings the album to a real tearjerker of an ending. It is Ed’s tribute to his late grandfather and the synth glides and piano together with the soft beat illustrate the grief perfectly. The lyrics allude to the sudden nature of death, the eternal love between the deceased and his wife and some truly heartbreaking images of a family united in sorrow. Ethereal backing vocals provide a choral feel and the ending has a big production element to it, which ends X on a devastating, theatrical note.
X gives something for fans of both Ed’s styles -emotional, acoustic Ed and upbeat, cool Ed. Personally, I prefer Ed stripped back and full of angst and heartbreak, as I love his storytelling ability but for a summer party, there are some guaranteed playlist additions on this album. Justin Timberlake fans will certainly love the ventures into Ed’s falsetto and there’s no doubt you’ll be humming along to the catchy hooks after just one listen. Thanks to Ed’s wise decision not to fade away into the background during the release of his two albums, X is likely to be a big seller so watch this space!