Ed Sheeran's 'x': What the Critics Are Saying
The Grammy-nominated British singer-songwriter is poised for stateside stardom with his sophomore album, but is success getting to him already?
Grammy-nominated U.K. singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran follows up his successful + debut in 2011 with the similarly named single mathematical symbol x (for multiply) and most observers agree he’s artfully avoided the sophomore slump. He’s already received noms for Best New Artist and Song of the Year (“The A Team”) and is poised to duplicate his massive worldwide success here in the U.S.
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Sheeran’s Metacritic score of 73 for x tops the debut’s average tally of 65, though no one in the U.S. was as enthusiastic as The Telegraph U.K.’s Neil McCormick, who calls the new album “in every respect, a richer blend, more seamlessly combining the factors that made him so immediately accessible first time round … These are genuinely great songs, where melodies flow, rhythms groove, choruses erupt and lyrics jab you with surprises,” concluding, “Sheeran stays true to the essential artistic notions of the classic singer-songwriter genre by treating his music as a vehicle for emotional veracity, personal revelation and universal inclusion.”
Billboard’s Jason Lipshutz says that Sheeran’s real gift “lies in his writing—his lyrics’ attention to detail and unorthodox phrasing in particular,” commenting that x “ups the ante from his debut. He sinks even deeper into feelings of love, jealousy and inebriation while trying to navigate pop superstardom—a problem this album is sure to only amplify.”
Sheeran comes into his own on his sophomore album, according to the Boston Globe’s Sarah Rodman, who calls “Don’t” his masterstroke, “a scathing, cuss-laden takedown of a paramour who betrayed [him] while they were staying in the same hotel … combining a singer-songwriter’s eye with a contemporary groove for lacerating-but-danceable results.”
Entertainment Weekly’s Melissa Maerz gives the album a “B,” saying Sheeran “is finally getting angry … Working with producers Rick Rubin and Pharrell Williams, who bring out a bluesier, broodier side of his folk-pop, he’s dropping F-bombs [and] admitting to ‘smoking illegal weed’—even flirting with rap on a few tracks,” concluding: “These little rebellions don’t make him edgy, but they feel more honest than the gooey, light-of-a-thousand-stars ballads he’s know for.”
The L.A. Times’ Randall Roberts says in his two-and-a-half (out of four) star review, “Sheeran’s the same charmer, more than willing to express deep emotions, but not through whiny emo-rock poetics but with a working-class chattiness and the sing-song raps of a bloke sharing yarns over some pints,” calling his songwriting “well-crafted, generous and willing to lay it on thick when necessary, but fun to be around nonetheless.”
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The N.Y. Daily News’ notoriously tough-to-please Jim Farber says x “crystallizes a character, and elaborates on a sound,” and “laces in traces of soul” compared to the debut’s “pop-spiced ballads,” though insisting that “it’s an unlikely switch, and an unconvincing one, [showing his] willingness to bend to whatever his audience creates as well as whichever way the trends blow.”
Rolling Stone’s Jon Dolan hopes “the kid finds a nice girlfriend and a better role model ASAP,” wondering if his success “might be starting to rattle the English singer-songwriter’s head, not to mention corrode his liver … A better album title might have been XXX.”