Album: Ed Sheeran, + (Atlantic)
Friday 09 September 2011
Right now, whoever used to be Ed Sheeran's manager is probably feeling like Decca's Dick Rowe must have in the years following his rejection of The Beatles. But in the ex-manager's case, things have been made just that bit more humiliating by Sheeran's decision to follow up his huge hit single "The A Team" with the brutal kiss-off "You Need Me, I Don't Need You", a no-punches-pulled account of their falling-out. "Let me sing and do my thing," he chides, "I'll move to greener pastures."
He's right to trust his own instincts: if he had followed the advice to tone down the crackhead portrait of "The A Team", maybe dye his ginger barnet a more commercial colour, and perhaps dispense with those hip-hop influences that could confuse older listeners, Sheeran might have wound up with a respectable, if predictable, career as a mainstream folkie singer-songwriter rocking the outer reaches of Radio Two.
Instead, he's a bona fide hitmaker with a colossal YouTube following, working in the argot and style of his own generation – nowhere better exemplified than in "You Need Me, I Don't Need You" itself, where his nimble hip-hop delivery rides a slick R&B groove, and his blue-collar sensibilities cut through in the proud aside about not having gone to the Brits School, or slipped into "sucking on a crack-pipe". Which, for all his former manager's doubts and misgivings, makes it two hits out of two with explicit references to crack.
Not that Sheeran's oeuvre is entirely dominated by such matters. There are actually more love songs than drug songs on + – though admittedly, they're less exciting.
With its chipper beat and staccato guitar riff, the acoustic R&B of "Grade 8" – in which his heartstrings are manipulated with the dexterity of an accomplished pianist – sounds like a more naturalistic Bruno Mars, while Sheeran's trademark folk-hop style of strummed acoustic guitar and looped beat are most simply laid out in "Drunk", a self-pitying, doomed attempt to resurrect a lost relationship. "Maybe I'll get drunk again, to feel a little love," he mopes.
Self-doubt is interspersed with the devotional lines wrapped in the sparse piano chords of "Wake Me Up", though he fares better in "Kiss Me", a slow, warm torch song with echoes of Van Morrison in an unusually open mood. It's the darker side of Sheeran that furnishes the more potent tracks, however, particularly "The City", where his sympathetic depiction of homeless streetlife rides a beatboxing and guitar groove whose quaint synth hook should make it his third straight hit.
But the album closes on a pronounced upswing, with the anthemic chant momentum of "Give Me Love", followed by a hidden track in which Sheeran reveals his folk roots with a version of "The Parting Glass", bidding us "goodnight, and joy be with you all". Including, presumably, managers everywhere.
DOWNLOAD THIS: You Need Me, I Don't Need You; The City; Grade 8; The A Team
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