Review Summary: don't stream this
Ed Sheeran's net worth is $207,000,000. Let's put this into perspective. The average net worth of a human being is $4,210. That means we have decided Ed Sheeran is worth about 50,000 average people. Putting aside the ethical implications for a moment, at the bare minimum this means that he had as much money as he could have possibly needed to make music, even discounting all of Atlantic's funding. And he's plenty talented - as any fan (or just observant listener) can tell you, he can easily carry a tune with his distinctively British voice. Most importantly, he has years of songwriting experience, giving enormous chart success to everything from tropical house to indie folk. Everything is in place for Sheeran to make good music, but No.6 Collaborations Project
falls flat on its face, and he has no excuses for this spectacular of a failure.
His last few albums (the mathematical symbol series) were consistently pretty appealing to most listeners. While the hit singles were slowly dropping in quality - "Perfect" was just a worse "Photograph," which was an inferior "The A-Team" - he never made anything that
embarrassing. The streak of inoffensive projects screeches to a halt here, with the most awkward, inconsistent and cringeworthy major-label collection of tracks since Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods
. There's like three songs on here I wouldn't mind listening to again. "Beautiful People" is pretty at times, and the only track on here to successfully capture the frustrated message he's pushing for almost this entire album (more on that later). "Cross Me" benefits from a great PnB Rock hook and a mostly chorus-delegated Sheeran. And "I Don't Care" is big enough I'm at least used to it, although that might just be Stockholm syndrome. That's it. Every other song on here is at best deeply mediocre, but mostly just bad, awkwardly mixed, and presented in a haphazard, nonstructural way. The album goes from Spotify-core pop to Latin to hyphy to grime to folk, all within the first five tracks, with little to no emotional connection. Following that, it starts to be a little more consistent with a US hip-hop theme, but it's not any better for it. With the wildcard approach there's a good chance you'll like one or two songs, and even if you hate it all you'll be entertained and surprised. Once you get over the disappointment of hearing Ed Sheeran rapping over stale, generic beats from producers that should do and know better (looking at you, Boi1da), it just feels draining. And then it goes on for six more tracks.
I wish I could say this was the low point, but it's not. It's the finale, "BLOW," a hard rock anthem featuring Bruno Mars and Chris Stapleton joining Ed as horny bikers from the 70s, and despite the eclectic mix of genres it still manages to stand out like a sore thumb for its deeply corny retro flair on a mostly modern album. Apparently written solely by Mars, it's a creepy fantasy that doesn't genuinely fit any of the artists' aesthetics, or the aesthetics of anyone under the age of 50. Unfortunately, the obnoxiously sexual come-ons and misfiring attempts at seduction fit in just fine to No.6
. "You make me wanna make a baby, baby, uh" is just the natural conclusion to the "she got the mmm, white dress, but when she's wearing less" and "baby, I got the feels for you" of previous tracks. It's not all verbal precum and bragging about how much his wife turns him on - some songs are about how he doesn’t belong at parties (despite being one of the most universally loved and wealthy musicians of our time) or how he's still good at rapping (not ever true, by the way) or flexing on people who didn't believe in him. Examples of that last theme include "Remember The Name," which gives Eminem and 50 Cent the chance to discuss how they're still relevant over a beat straight from an era when they were, or "1000 Nights" where Ed compares couch-surfing his friends' apartments to Meek Mill's origins in poverty. These artists are ill-fitting but don't drag down the album as a whole. The only blame to be placed on the collaborators, ranging from Cardi B to Dave to Skrillex to Young Thug, is choosing to give their OK to release the songs they were on. The real problem here is that someone decided all these tracks, which would have been low points on other albums but not total killers (outside of "BLOW," which shouldn't have ever been released in the first place), should be released together. It's more than just a poorly ordered tracklisting, but any basic level of quality assurance would tell you that this is not fit for release to a commercial market. Something this off-putting could only have happened if Sheeran was the only honest one involved in the final decision to release. What I'm trying to say is that this total mess of an album is completely his fault. It's lazy, simultaneously boring and upsetting, with the emotional depth of an Adam Sandler film. He's one of the least interesting songwriters of our time, but this is somehow still far beneath him. If he continues to be rewarded for heading this direction, -
and No.7 Collaborations Project
will be some of the worst popular musical projects of the 2020s.