A guy playing a guitar singing a song. We’ve seen it hundreds…heck, thousands of times. They are (usually) very talented, but it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. Ed Sheeran managed to do it with his debut album, +. It wasn’t a fantastic album, but among the standard acoustic guitar tracks he had some real standout moments, like “Give Me Love”, “Kiss Me”, and “The A Team” that showed his creative potential. For his sophomore effort, he exploded with first single “Sing”. A song that presents itself as a typical Ed Sheeran acoustic track, but Pharrell Williams (this man is a musical God) adds a hip hop beat to the proceedings and gooses it with an insane amount of energy. It sets my expectations high for the album X. Unfortunately, Ed disappoints.
The album too often stays in Ed’s safe zone instead of pushing him to new boundaries like “Sing” does. The outstanding “I See Fire”, Ed’s original song for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (which is included here as a bonus track on the deluxe edition), brought a celtic folk feel to his style, but nothing on X stands out in that way. Ed has created a pleasant collection of songs here that will make teenage girls swoon. He sounds fantastic on the pretty melodies, and it’s impossible not to like him, but there’s a simplicity here that is frustrating. There’s nothing here that makes showcases him as the musician he has the potential to be.
Opening tracks “One” and “I’m A Mess” are a solid listen, but you’ll remember nothing about them after they end. “Don’t” has a bite to it as he shame raps an ex (who, from the lyrics, seems to be Ellie Goulding), but the time track #5, “Nina”, rolls around, you’ll already become bored by the repetitive sound. There’s a slight beat added, but Ed’s acoustic guitar is still front and center in the bland productions. “Photograph” and “Bloodstream” don’t buck the trend of boring love songs. For all his talents, it’s surprising that Ed didn’t listen to all these songs complied together and think “this is a little much, no?”.
As X progresses, you just become more and more annoyed listening to an artist who has so much potential to bring something original to the table, but he plays it safe with pretty little acoustic pop ditties that will get teenage girls to buy his album and radio to play his music. Ed should be taking a look at John Mayer‘s career. John’s 2001 debut, Room For Squares, was full of pretty pop/rock that made girls swoon, but with his follow-up, Heavier Things, John matured his sound, which lead to his pinnacle album, Continuum. At this point, Ed doesn’t seem to be on that continuum. He seems stuck. Let’s hope one day Ed throws caution to the wind and makes the exciting, offbeat music he was bound to make. X is not that album.