Ed Sheeran has done it again. With the release of his new album, X (pronounced “multiply”), the British singer-songwriter has stolen hearts across the world, whether they be old fans or new. Sheeran previewed the album the week leading up to the release by streaming a new song each day, and the hype has not ceased since its debut worldwide on June 23rd. The album has since shot to number one on iTunes, and is expected to reach number one on the Billboard 200, as well.
The album opens with “One,” the first song written for the album. It’s one of Sheeran’s slower ballads, playing to his common theme of drinking the sorrows away. His voice is soft and beautiful, his high range falsetto being the most impressive part of the track.
“I’m a Mess” starts off with a catchy beat and an honest admittance that has become signature to Ed Sheeran, one thing fans love about him and his music. The acoustic guitar is bold and strong, as well, creating a staccato that, paired with the lyrics, makes for a very powerful and moving song.
“Sing,” of course, is the first single off the album. It was produced by Pharrell Williams to offer a sound that is outside of Sheeran’s comfort zone. I’m not generally a fan of singles because they tend to become over played and worn out, but there is something about this song that conquers that stereotype and keeps drawing me back. The beat and speed of guitar are intimate in such away that can only keep you moving along. The essence of the song makes you want to do just what the lyrics say: sing.
The next track, “Don’t,” is a bit rougher, both in content and sound. It is not the typical love song that Sheeran is known for, and also leans towards a new, hip-hop side. The lyrics demonstrate a bit more of Ed Sheeran the celebrity, and I could not help but think like a Taylor Swift fan, trying to figure out which starlet singer to which Mr. Sheeran refers.
“Photograph” is an instant favorite, and one that Sheeran himself believes will be the song to sell the album. Lyrics like the chorus’ “You can keep me, inside the pocket of your ripped jeans,” and “You can fit me inside the necklace you got when you were sixteen, next to your heartbeat, where I should be” are reminiscent of “Wake Me Up” and “Kiss Me” from Sheeran’s first album, +. They are classic Sheeran, in the pure and romantic way he captures love in words and sound. Songs like these are another reason people love Ed Sheeran, something he often muses about despite his assumed lack of the stereotypical heartthrob musician’s looks (see “Take It Back”).
“Tenerife Sea” is a sweet, simple ballad that feels effortless, to both listener and artist. It is easy to listen to, but also feels like it just flowed from Sheeran’s fingertips. It makes beautiful references to the Canary Islands where the song gets its title, but does not seem as deep as some of Sheeran’s other love songs.
“Runaway” was also produced by Pharrell Williams, and only further solidifies the success of this talented duo. There’s a catch in the music that just lures you in, and if you can get past the captivating sounds, Sheeran’s metaphorical lyrics are as strong as ever. Williams also seems to push Sheeran in his vocal range, this time exploring the lower notes, creating a haunting sound that is oddly alluring.
If “Runaway” and “Don’t” are examples of Sheeran’s hip-hop side, then “The Man” is clearly Sheeran dip into rap. He may deny it in the lyrics (see “Take It Back”), but the roots of rap are there, and Sheeran all but relishes in it. “The Man” is different, but Sheeran’s words are interesting and truthful in a unique way that works for the singer-songwriter. It is worth exploring his talent here.
“Thinking Out Loud” is back to pure Sheeran, and is supposedly his favorite track on X. The song is pretty self-explanatory lyric-wise, but that is not to say it is not moving and heartfelt, because it is one of Sheeran’s bests. He makes it even more believable with the strain he puts on his voice and the power that evokes.
“Afire Love” is absolutely heartbreaking. It is reminiscent of “Small Bump,” both in story and the deceiving nature of the music and the lyrics. “Afire Love” tells the story of Sheeran’s grandfather and his love and struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Sheeran keeps the music light, especially with the piano and violins, while the lyrics reach a deeper level that anyone suffering from loss will be able to relate to. It is strong all the way around, making it an easy favorite.
“Take It Back” is the “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” of this album. It may be repetitive and unnecessary, but these songs have clearly become Sheeran’s anthems for himself and his struggles and successes. It encompasses what sets him apart, how he embraces that and does not see the need to change himself; it is his own statement of why you should respect him, and in turn, is exactly why people do just that. The chorus has a standout, catchy sound, and the lyrics are as clever as ever. Though it will be hard to top “They say I’m up and coming like I’m fucking in an elevator,” Sheeran manages some other good lines like “I was Macy Gray, I tried to say goodbye and I choked.”
“Nina” and “Bloodstream” are not much of standouts. The words and music of “Nina” run together in a constant beat. The chorus is unique, however, with a nice piano underlay. “Shirtsleeves” is another song that seems to slip through the cracks. The lyrical theme of the ocean and water is unique, but once again, the song as a whole does not stay prominent above the surface for long. It is perhaps best as the bonus track that it is.
“Even My Dad Does Sometimes” is the slowest on the album, much like “Autumn Leaves” and “Sunburn,” bonus tracks on +. “EMDDS” might be one of those songs that resonates when you are in a specific mood, but it is not the star of this album.
The Deluxe Edition comes with 16 songs, including “I See Fire,” the track written for the end credits of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Though the track is more of a folk song, similar to Sheeran’s cover of “Wayfaring Stranger,” it is a nice addition for fans of the J.R.R. Tolkien saga.
Overall, X is a beautiful album, full of the talent and promise the music world has come to expect from Ed Sheeran. It has a range of emotion and musical genres, lending a song for any mood that you might be in. It is definitely worth the download, so be sure to check it out!