Don’t let his flame-haired, schoolboy appearance fool you; this kid loves to spit rhymes. Hailing from the UK, 20 year old Ed Sheeran catapulted onto the British charts with the debut of his massively popular single “The A Team” in the summer of 2011. Selling over 58,000 copies in its first week, it was honoured as being the highest-selling and highest-charting debut single of 2011.
Best described as a cross between Jason Mraz and Newton Faulkner, Sheeran’s unconventional style has caught the attention of both casual listeners and die-hard music fans alike. Mingling slick R&B grooves, acoustic balladry and shy attempts at rap, Sheeran’s sound is undeniably unique.
Simply entitled +, Sheeran’s debut studio album certainly lives up to his chaotic musical style; fusing sentiments of folk, R&B, rock and hip-hop. Piloted by his smash hit “The A Team”, Sheeran quickly establishes legitimacy as a talented songwriter and musician. His hushed, tender vocals and poignant delivery display maturity well beyond his years. Telling of a young, homeless heroin addict spiralling out of control, “The A Team” pushes the limit in storytelling. “Light’s gone, day’s end / Struggling to pay rent / Long nights, strange men.” In spite of this dark undertone, Sheeran impressively up-beat tempo and well-crafted lyrics conjures up hopeful imagery. There is just something to love about his beautiful, impassioned expression on a topic others tend to shy away from.
Sheeran’s effortless charm shines through on subsequent tracks such as “Drunk” and “Wake Me Up” where he tells tales drunken self-pity and watching Shrek twelve times. With great ease Sheeran manages to create a compelling sense of intimacy, giving you the feeling as if you awkwardly stumbled into a private conversation.At the same time, however, you can’t but smile at his unabashed and honest chatter about nonsensical things. “And I’ve always been shit at computer games, and your brother always beats me / And if I lost, I go across and chuck all the controllers at the TV.”
Dazzled by breathy, aching vocals, the next track “Small Bump” provides a heart-wrenching portrayal of a past miscarriage. Its choking lyrics and deep sentiments are comforted by soothing, soulful acoustics. Sheeran’s sadness and anguish translates into a tragic depiction echoed by gentle, gratifying beat. “You were just a small bump unborn for four months then torn from life / Maybe you were needed up there but we’re still unaware as to why.”
Although commendable for tackling the issue of homelessness, “This City” falls short of the standards set by the previous tracks. Riddled with cheesy beat boxing and partnered by a choppy beat, it can best be described as a comical blip in +. Stripped down in the next track “Lego House”, Sheeran’s soulful vocals combined with smooth acoustic styling tastefully mellows out the vibe. However as quickly as it came, the refreshing mood is hastily interrupted by angst-driven defiance against corporate managers in “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You.” Although sustained by a catchy beat, Sheeran’s rapid but weak hip-hop delivery sticks out like a sore thumb. “Melody, music maker / Reading all the papers / They say I’m up and coming like I’m in a fucking elevator.” Also, its droning, repetitive chorus of consisting of “You need me, man, I don’t need you” verges on verbal torment.
But don’t fret, Sheeran redeems himself in the end by delivering a passionate ballad coupled with an endearing anthem about lost love. The uplifting tone and sweet, soaring chorus of “Give Me Love” is nothing short of astonishing. The track rides over swirling verses, breaks through energizing drumbeats and culminates into to a pulsating chant that will leave you mouthing along.
All in all, Sheeran’s debut album + deserves immense praise for introducing us to his fresh, unconventional sound. While hip-hop isn’t his forte, he makes up for it with rich, tender vocals and achingly beautiful lyrics. A brilliant musician and masterful wordsmith, + has proven that Ed Sheeran is here to stay.
1. The A Team
4. Grade 8
5. Wake Me Up
6. Small Bump
8. This City
9. Lego House
10. You Need Me, I Don’t Need You
11. Kiss Me
12. Give Me Love
Standouts: The A Team, Drunk, Wake Me Up, Small Bump, Give Me Love