Fame can be a difficult thing to experience when you’re someone as humble and introverted as Ed Sheeran seems to be. His first album + evoked the type of introspection and naivety that gave him the charm ultimately leading to his worldwide success. But with that success came a loss of innocence and a new perspective that he captures on his second album X.
Ed’s rising status was inevitable given his gradual success over the last three years. It was a given that his sophomore record would be an instant hit. With it sitting at #1 in several countries around the world including Canada, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, Ed is arguably the biggest solo male artist out right now.
But with the pressures that come with fame, Ed seems to have kept a level head about it in his music, remaining modest and keeping with much of the same approach he took with the first album. This one is lead with two acoustic tracks, the mainly falsetto One, and I’m A Mess, a stylistic cousin to Give Me Love that leads up to a similarly larger ending.
The third track, and first single Sing, presents a different side of Ed that seems less Sheeran and more of a coercion. Co-written and produced by Pharrell Williams, the song was an obvious instant hit but lacks the lasting power of anything from +. Despite its success as his biggest hit to date, the song is the sore thumb of the album and was an unnecessary attempt at winning over pop radio.
It would be easy to blame Pharrell except the other song he’s involved with, Runaway, is the slickest on the album. About running away from an alcoholic father, it’s oddly quite chipper and has a killer rhythm, coming to a peak by the lyrical delivery of the third verse: “Backpack and a flat cap turned to the back as I packed my clothes up/My dad wasn’t down with that plan to attack, intends to show love.”
On The Man, he realizes the affect that his career has had on his life and relationships. In it, he calls out an ex who cheated on him, adding “The irony is if my career and music didn’t exist/In 6 years yeah you’d probably be my wife with a kid.” Similarly, so have the subjects of his romances-gone-wrong changed as well. Don’t, about someone who, like him, tours the world, is about a brief relationship that ended when she cheated on him with a close friend. It had been speculated that the song is about Taylor Swift, a claim Ed has said is 100% untrue. Another suggestion has been Ellie Goulding.
Beyond the subject of damaged relationships and substance use – such as the steadily-presented mid-tempo Bloodstream, co-written with Rudimental and Snow Patrol‘s Gary Lightbody and Johnny McDaid about his experimentation with MDMA – Ed steps away from his woes several times to offer up a change in pace and mood.
Tenerife Sea is a traditional-sounding folk song in the same vain of fellow British artist Passenger where he describes his appreciation of a girl whose beauty he compares to the sea around Tenerife Island. Thinking Out Loud, the last song he wrote for X is ironically the closest he comes to the sound of his first album; a nice little love song but its lightness and regression make it feel out of place.
X is a natural progression from + both in sound and theme without being at all drastic. It may feel dramatic at times but it never reaches a point of getting too deep to get out of. While the lyrics sometimes suggest otherwise, Ed hasn’t let fame or popularity infiltrate his sound and that becomes the album’s most rewarding quality.
2. I’m A Mess
8. Tenerife Sea
10. The Man
11. Thinking Out Loud
12. Afire Love