Review Summary: The ginger-haired Starbucks troubadour produces another inevitable chart-topper, this time with a little help from his friends.
When Ed Sheeran put out No. 5 Collaborations Project
in 2011, he was on the brink of stardom, months away from “The A Team” breaking into the top 5 of the British charts and kick-starting one of the most successful pop careers of the 2010s. Now, in Sheeran’s 2019 “sequel” to the aforementioned EP, he’s on top of the world, free to work with the biggest names in the industry. And that is exactly what he does here, with collaborators ranging from slightly more obscure names such as YEBBA and Paulo Ronda to household names of yesteryear (Justin Bieber, Skrillex) and the present day (Travis Scott, Cardi B). It’s a formula that serves as a potent recipe for a lot of bloated nothingness topped off with a hefty dosage of vanilla.
Is that what we get on No. 6 Collaborations Project
? The answer to that question is complicated. Certainly Sheeran’s shortcomings as a lyricist are well-documented, and his skills as a wordsmith are not improved in the slightest here. The “white-bread troubadour with a heart of gold” image that he typifies is still in full effect, as evidenced by the verses of the record’s much-maligned lead single “I Don’t Care”. But credit must be given where it’s due: as far as pop musicians go, Sheeran writes some of the best hooks out there, point blank. Utilizing repetitive chord progressions is part and parcel of the pop music game, and Sheeran is no exception; HOWEVER, if you can pair those progressions with melodies that aren’t quite as dime-store and production that is actually halfway decent, repetition is a sin I’m willing to forgive. That is where Sheeran shines, and it is those skills that, at least in this reviewer’s eyes, save albums like x
from being completely miserable.
The actual collaborators themselves are mixed bags, some being completely banal (Bieber...GOD “I Don’t Care” is the worst thing here by a country mile) and some clearly putting energy into their performances and energizing the songs (Chance the Rapper, Travis Scott). Closing track “BLOW” is the closest thing to a rock song that Sheeran has ever done, as he trades vocal lines with Chris Stapleton and Bruno Mars in what can only be described as an odd combination that works much better than it should (in large part thanks to Mars’ contributions...he produces the track and plays all the guitars and drums). This song is also an example of why I think this album avoids drowning in its own excess...it feels
like all or most of these tracks are proper collaborative efforts, with Sheeran giving plenty of room for his partners to contribute. It’s that respect for the collaborative aspect of music that I in turn must give kudos to Sheeran for encouraging, even if the results aren’t as organic as many music fans would prefer.
In short: this isn’t great by any means, and it might not even be the best thing Sheeran has produced. But I encourage listening to it with an open mind and not assuming that everything with the ginger-haired likeness of Ed Sheeran is completely vapid with no musical value whatsoever. You might just find yourself surprised.