Review Summary: Sheeran's soothing voice and occasionally obvious acoustic chops can't make up for predictable music and cringe-making lyricism.
Something that really annoys me about music today is waste of talent and potential, and it's no secret that it seems to be alive and well in today's music industry. To be fair, about 80% of this isn't the musician's fault; when a musician as bright and talented as Sheeran get signed, they're usually handed to some eight producers who either let the artist have too much control, or most times, have more control than the artists themselves. Thankfully Ed Sheeran managed to avoid this by having the majority of the album handled by one producer (Jake Gosling), with occasional appearances by hip-hop producer No I.D. every now and then. Problem is, even that isn't enough to mask the blatant waste of potential that is loud and clear on +
Sheeran was previously known for his electronic productions, and his previous E.P. wowed audiences who heard this then-unknown composition. Barely a year later, Sheeran made his commercial breakthrough with +
, his first full length album, and admit it, you were hooked when you heard "The A-Team". A relatively minimalist song that still had tons of spark, insightful lyrics about a prostitute, and that soft voice that made the song such a thrill. However, something that kills most debut albums from up-and-comers lurks in this album: predictability. "The A-Team" is a perfect indicator of what's to come, and that's a problem. If you've heard his previous effort No. 5 Collaborations Project
, it's very well clear that he's capable of so much more than featured on this album. Some of his knack for experimentation and fusion of genres makes it onto the LP, with some hip-hop elements showing up every now and them, but for the most part, you can tell where the album will go, with the songs sounding all too familiar (which became more apparent with each listen of The Civil Wars' eponymous effort).
But an even bigger problem than the album being downright predictable in places is the lyricism. Now despite my previous claim that "The A-Team" had insightful lyrics, I was in no way trying to imply that they were amazing. If you thought the "crumbling like pastries" line was cringe-worthy, well, there's "gems" here that are far worse. And that's not to say that the lyrics on No. 5 Collaborations Project
were particularly amazing either, but Sheeran's musicianship and vocal talent were enough to make up for it. But, here's a sample lyric from "Lego House": "I'm gonna paint you by numbers/And colour you in/If things go right we can frame it and put you on a wall
". Now, I'll excuse Sheeran on the fact that he was 20 when he wrote and recorded the majority of this album, but that's just one of the many cheesy love-song lyrics that show up on the album. Also, did the "wall" reference remind anyone of Rammstein's "Stein Um Stein" (creepiness notwithstanding)? Then there's this gem from "Wake Me Up":
"I know you love Shrek
‘Cause we've watched it 12 times
But maybe you're hoping for a fairy tale too
And if your DVD breaks today
You should've got a VCR
Because I've never owned a Blu-ray, true say
The sheer notion that anyone would backpedal on technology notwithstanding, it's a shame that the majority of the lyrics in this album (including this) are as bad as they are, because there's some sparks of lyrical genius on this album- one in particular being "You Need Me, I Don't Need You", an excellent *** you to those who have ever doubted he'd be successful in music one day. And he does it in a tongue-in-cheek way too. And it really is a shame that this album is not better than it is, because none of the songs are particularly bad. Some really excellent acoustic guitar work show up in a lot of the tracks, and the moments where he dabbles in other genres are well done and tightly pulled off. Sheeran's voice is especially refreshing in today's pop music that relies heavily on either autotune or oversinging. I mean, he's certainly no Bruce Dickinson or Freddie Mercury, but his soft voice shows that he is honest and is willing to let the songs speak for themselves.
Problem is, as mentioned a lot of times in this review, the album is just too predictable to leave a lasting impression. And it's slightly worrying because here's a kid who had an E.P. showcasing so much potential, and a full length L.P. wasting the majority of it. And if Sheeran continues the rather disturbing thought of continuing down said path (the fact that Rick Rubin, a producer notorious for having more control than the artists, is attached speaks volumes), I fear that he's going to go down the same path he himself intends to avoid- being yet another talented but flash-in-the-pan pop artist. Perhaps this is why indie labels (and artists) seem like such a blessing nowadays.
You Need Me, I Don't Need You