Monday, September 12, 2011

Ed Sheeran: + (Atlantic)

Much has been made of Norfolk singer-songwriter-sort-of-rapper Ed Sheeran’s rise to the top, which saw him sofa-surfing as he gigged his way into the public consciousness the old-fashioned way. No X Factor audition, no Usher/Bieber-style celebrity endorsements, no online gimmicks a la Sandi fucking Thom. But anyone who’s caught the Ed Sheeran live experience won’t be surprised that he’s made it, outlet of genius that he is.

So, with a wealth of live experience a musician twice his age probably couldn’t match, and a string of quietly successful EPs, the build up to debut album + has been just short of immense. The airplay behemoth of The A-Team needs no introduction, though whether it was the most accurate introduction to Sheeran himself is questionable. The gentle, lilting twang does crop up throughout +, but accompanied by hip-hop beats, cheeky lyrics and stuttered, 100-mile-a-minute vocals.

On paper, it’s daring stuff. A chubby-cheeked, ginger-haired, white kid armed with an acoustic guitar forging his own extraordinary adaptation of rap probably shouldn’t work. So it’s pretty impressive that he not only pulls it off, but that it doesn’t feel in the least bit unnatural. Sheeran owns every single note with a firm, commendable confidence, and from the outset it’s difficult to imagine anyone else even attempting something similar.

Tonally, the whole spectrum is covered, from the trippy, morose Kiss Me to the contented sway of Grade 8, essentially operating as both an amalgamation of and a follow-on from his EPs. It’s therefore hard not to compare + to his more low-key releases – You Need Me, I Don’t Need You may have functioned better in its initial acoustic guise, but actually brings some punch within the sphere of the album. And at the very least, the tracklist makes for an effective way to cap the journey to full long-player.

Lyrically, + might come across as occasionally gawky and literal, but it actually benefits from this. It feels disarmingly honest, and makes for a refreshing picture of late-teen life, particularly when the general depiction is some sort of Skinsesque, high-gloss fantasy, relevant to precisely no-one.

While he’s been adopted as some sort of voice of the BlackBerry Messenger generation, + proves that Sheeran is in possession of a talent whose reach goes far beyond that. And although perhaps there’s a slight worthiness in the aforementioned “I did it the traditional route!” schtick that comes attached with every mention of his name, it’s hard to imagine Ed Sheeran couldn’t have succeeded, whichever route he took.

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