There must be some sweet satisfaction for Ed Sheeran following the huge success of his debut album. Despite getting a decidedly mixed reaction from critics, the album went on to sell over 1.8 million copies in the UK alone. It also charted well across the globe including a Top 5 position on the US Billboard 200. 3 years on from the huge success of +, Sheeran has just released his second studio album x (multiply).
x features 12 new tracks including the hit lead single Sing which was produced by Pharrell Williams. The warm reception for that song saw critics hailing a slight change in direction for Sheeran but actually it’s a bit of a red herring. Much of x is more like the singer-songwriter feel of his debut +. This isn’t a bad thing of course as Sheeran is at his best when he’s just accompanied by acoustic guitar riffs.
The album opens with One which is a stripped-back emotive number that is reminiscent of Sheeran’s finest songs to date. The raw honesty of the track sends shivers down your spine and it’s a great way to grab your attention as you begin listening to the album. It’s also one of three tracks on the record that Sheeran has sole writing credit on.
Much of x was written with Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid. If you’re not a Snow Patrol fan fear not, the album doesn’t sound like a Coldplay record. Stylistically Sheeran moves between simple acoustic arrangements and heavier beat-filled tracks that allow him to inject hip-hop influences. Nina marries the best of both worlds providing an early standout on the album.
Elsewhere on the album Pharrell co-writes and produces a second track, Runaway, which combines acoustic melodies with a steady beat and almost loses the acoustic guitar altogether for brutally honest rap moment The Man. Bloodstream teams Sheeran up with not only Snow Patrol’s McDaid but also the band’s frontman Gary Lightbody and Rudimental.
Our favourite moment on the album comes on the beautifully simple Photograph. Sheeran’s voice shines best when he explores his falsetto and mixes it with almost-hushed vocals on the verses. The track is sure to become a live favourite and it’s one we can’t get enough of. We also like the punchy I’m A Mess which shows Sheeran unleashing the power of his voice for one of the album’s rawest moments.
x comes to a close with Afire Love which mixes sparse beats with guitar riffs and a piano melody. The song remembers Sheeran’s grandfather and is a suitably emotional moment to end the record on. The lyrical honesty is admirable and it’s a song many people will be able to relate to.
Ed Sheeran shows progression on x whilst retaining everything that made us fall in love with him in the first place. x is a bolder and more confident record than + and it looks set to sell as many, if not more, copies. In an industry where music is continually getting more and more superficial, it’s refreshing to have an artist like Sheeran who actually puts meaning and feeling into his music. Hopefully e can inspire other musicians to do the same.