First Spin… Ed Sheeran’s x
We’ve all had the mantra drilled into this that there’s no substitute for hard work, but if there’s one person who’s living proof of that, it’s Ed Sheeran. The diminutive troubadour, who actually began his career back in 2005, toured relentlessly (relentlessly, he played 312 gigs in 2009) and, after he self-released his No.5 Collaborations Project EP (which sold 7,000 copies in its first week despite little or no promotion), he got snapped up by Atlantic Records.
His debut album + was a smash hit, selling almost two millions copies in the UK alone and yielding a number of huge singles, including ‘Drunk’, ‘The A Team’ and ‘Small Bump’. After three years of constant touring in support of that record, he’s back with x and has called in some super producers, including Pharrell Williams and Rick Rubin.
The album is released on Monday (June 23rd), we’ve heard it and present a detailed track by track guide to the record, a first spin…
The album starts off with an incredibly intimate moment. Given Sheeran chose to preview the album by releasing ‘Sing’ (we’ll get to that in more detail in a minute), you might be expecting a change in direction on the album, but ‘One’ could have been taken straight from +. It starts off with a huge sigh and then develops into a lovelorn ditty, with nothing more than a lush sounding acoustic guitar and Sheeran’s voice.
The singer has said that this is the last song he’s written about his ex-girlfriend Alice and dates as far back as 2011, which makes sense. It’s stripped back, raw, heavy with emotion and a brave way to start the record off.
‘I’m A Mess’
Another raw moment, with just acoustic guitar once again. This is more direct than ‘One’, with a driving rhythm and real earnest groove, it’s also very self-deprecating and cloaked in metaphor, with odd lyrics like ‘Put your faith in my stomach’. It builds to a supremely catchy bridge with multiple harmonies, proving that the singer is thinking bigger on this new record.
You’ll have heard this one. Co-written with Pharrell Williams, this is a radical departure from Sheeran’s signature sound. Underpinned by a decidedly funky guitar riff, bubbling bass and a nagging hook, this sees Sheeran return to the rapping that featured on ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’. Clearly inspired an intimate encounter with a young lady, this is the singer at his most risqué, but remains firmly grounded in the day today. Pharrell is more accustomed to being handed bottles of Dom Perignon and Cognac, here Ed’s telling us all about being handed ‘A water bottle full of tequila’. Pimping…
Co-written with US rapper Benny Blanco and produced by the don of knob twiddlers himself Rick Rubin, this again begins with Sheeran rapping over a clap and gentle strum. Eventually it builds to a chorus with a bouncy keyboard and a laid-back feel. This has the groove of the kind of pop music that the US charts were full of in the mid 1990s, Sugar Ray and the like. It gets a dark towards the end, with Sheeran again lamenting a girl who got away, as he does...
The first of two tracks written with Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid, this one starts off with a bombastic piano before giving way to a disparate bass line and a jagged beat. This feels more confrontational and colder than the other material. The chorus has a real swagger to it, very 90s R’N’B, with its references to ‘illegal weed’. The song is Sheeran basically telling a girl he's no good for them, which is new…
Also co-written by McDaid, this actually has a real Snow Patrol vibe to it, with warm piano and acoustic guitars underpinning a gentle ballad. This feels like a track for the morning of regret after a big night out, it’s a pause for breathe.
This track has the same feel as the quieter moments on +, plucked acoustic guitar and a pacy verse building into a heavy chorus, with Sheeran going as far as to sing ‘Lord forgive me for the things I’ve done’. Whatever it was is unlikely to have been that bad…
This is the folkiest moment on the album, with just a quickly plucked acoustic guitar and a chorus that’s actually feels like it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Mumford & Sons record. It’s also the warmest and most romantic song on the album, with Sheeran waxing lyrical about a girl he’s just meet.
The other track on the album produced by Williams, this is a lot more chilled than ‘Sing’, with a clap beat and simple acoustic riff, but there’s a pulse and groove to it that’s unmistakeably Pharrell. It’s also annoyingly catchy.
This is the starkest moment on the record and very strongly influenced by The Streets. It starts with Sheeran rapping over a metronomic drum beat and jarring piano, with lyrics full of bitterness. It builds to a wistful chorus, the kind that Mike Skinner’s more intimate moments were full of.
‘Thinking Out Loud’
Built around a jagged pluck on electric guitar, this feels like its inspired by classic soul, with a heavy Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder influence. The chorus is that of a big ballad, with Sheeran really giving it some with the vocals, which seem to be inspired by the pursuit of a love for life. It’s kind of lovely…
This track was written about Sheeran’s grandfather, two weeks after he passed away, and is understandably mournful and downbeat. It’s actually quite a difficult listen, with incredibly vivid lyrics and a huge amount of sadness in Sheeran’s voice. It’s a sad, tender and heartwreching bookend to the record.
Ed Sheeran’s new album x is released on Monday (June 23rd) and you can pre-order it in hmv stores now.
purehmv members will be able to get their hands on some framed artwork signed by Ed from Monday (June 23rd), click here to find out more about purehmv.