Last Sunday (June 29th, 2014), Ed Sheeran captivated thousands of onlookers as he commanded the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury. Not bad for someone who was busking on the streets less than 5 years ago.
While he was on stage, it was officially revealed on BBC Radio 1 that the 23-year-old’s latest album “x” (pronounced “multiply”) had topped the Official UK Albums Chart. The album sold more than 182,000 copies in the space of 7 days, making it the fastest selling album of 2014 so far. The follow-up to his debut album ‘+’ shows a darker side to Ed Sheeran, who told Buzzfeed that he wrote about “s**t that happens” and that it “sums up the last 3 years of [his] life pretty accurately”.
Judging by the album, the last 3 years can’t have been overly great for Sheeran, as the record predominantly focuses on romance and heartbreaks, and how the West Yorkshire-born singer-songwriter put his career first and made mistakes along the way. The former is particularly evident in “Nina”, a possible contender for Sheeran’s next single, as the powerful chorus contains the line, “And I’ve been livin’ on the road Nina, but then again you should know Nina”. Opening track “One” is another strong track that also embraces this theme, as does one of the stand out songs on the album, “Don’t”.
Having supported Taylor Swift on her tour of America, it’s clear that her knack for shaming exes in her music rubbed off on Sheeran, as “Don’t” is based on his experience with a celebrity girlfriend who cheated on him with a close friend. As well as sending the gossip magazines into overdrive, “Don’t” is a dark and powerful track that sticks two fingers up to Sheeran’s ex, making it one of the highlights of “x”.
“Sing”, which gave Sheeran his first #1 single earlier this year, shows a slight move away from the one man and his acoustic guitar we have come accustomed to. Heavily influenced by the pop and r&b styling of Justin Timberlake, the track was produced by and features the vocals of Pharrell Williams (who seems to be doing no wrong at the moment), so it’s no surprise that this is one of the strongest songs on the album.
Nevertheless, Sheeran hasn’t strayed completely from his roots. The gentle tones of “Tenerife Sea”, “Photograph” and “Thinking Out Loud” feature a similar sound to the likes of “The A Team”, “U.N.I.” and “Give Me Love” from his debut album, providing a welcome change to the dark undertones of “x”.
Something that Sheeran achieves well is tackling subjects that many mainstream artists would shy away from: for example, “Bloodstream” is about the time he took MDMA and fell in love with a bean bag. However, he makes them applicable to his young fan base by populating his tracks with references to his favourite pastimes, such as playing with LEGO. It’s a clever technique that makes Ed Sheeran stand out from the other singer-songwriters that are currently dominating the charts.