‘+’ by Ed Sheeran is difficult. Difficult to truly like, but also difficult to criticise. After his track ‘The A Team’ broke him in to the mainstream consciousness in June, he has been made into a household name. Based on this lead single, it’s fair to say that the expectations for the rest of the album are respectably high. It is a shame then that ‘+’ isn’t quite up to the task.
Ed Sheeran is clearly a talented musician, and despite his age (he released his first album four years ago when he was just 16) he has already made great progress in the industry. He relentlessly writes, he relentlessly tours, and he has the vocal talent to stand out. But, it is in the songs that he falls down.
The album opens with ‘The A Team’ and ‘Drunk’. It’s a very strong start, shot through with emotion in the former and fun in the latter. It is a potent mix at first, which is quickly diluted by a number of, not remarkably bad, but forgettable tracks that taint the experience. ‘Grade 8’ is a lyrically-playful but unsatisfying and outdated listen, while ‘This’, though sweet, warrants no second play-through. Great ideas glimmer from beneath dull musical ideas, and only truly come through on the infectious ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’ and ‘This City’, which at least have some personality.
His Kate Nash-esque ‘slice-of-life’ lyrical style is another issue. ‘Wake Me Up’ is the worst offender, as Ed sings a schmaltzy ballad that will surely divide audiences between the people who ‘get it’ and the people gagging at the sentiment of it all, about making cups of tea and sitting around watching Shrek with the missus. It would work, but it’s laid on so thick that it becomes insincere. ‘This City’ is an example of when he gets the balance right lyrically, being both an interesting autobiographical account as well as musically interesting. He shows the listener he can do it; there are great songs here. There just aren’t as many as expected.
‘+’ is a brave album in some respects. Ed has clearly thrown everything he has at the wall to see what sticks. There are the typical acoustic numbers, some beatbox-led pop tracks, subdued love songs and, in ‘The A Team’ and ‘Drunk’, two sure-fire hits. On the first listen it is a perfectly pleasant album, but the majority of what is here doesn’t linger in the memory for long, and after a few more spins it starts to sound decidedly dull and samey.
Nonetheless, this is a great opportunity for Ed Sheeran. ‘+’ is not the best album he could have made, but the better songs that are here will carry it through, and if he can hone his songwriting a little further by the time the label is baying for another release, then maybe he can write an album that does his talent justice.
Written by Grant Bailey