“Put your faith in my stomach.”
That’s an actual lyric from Ed Sheeran‘s new album, X. The ginger ninja returns after conquering pretty much every country with a hormonal teenage populace, with an album that is essentially full of that whimpering singer-songwriter schtick from Lego House and the like.
Which means more dodgy lyrics like the one above, which appears on I’m A Mess and sounds like an ad for Pepto-Bismol. Sheeran’s trademark acoustic ballads stand up with about as much heart as One Direction‘s Story of My Life, which is fine for a pop record (and will no doubt continue to soundtrack a schmaltzy teen drama near you very soon), but perhaps not so much for someone who professes to be much more. So when on Photograph you hear a line like “you can keep me/ inside the pocket of your ripped jeans”, an eye-roll feels completely justified.
There are certainly added flourishes in production though. The piano on the chorus of Don’t signals a bit of old-time funk, but in Sheeran’s hands it’s wasted. While it is important to remember that this is still essentially pop music, Sheeran’s lackadaisical mix of singing and spoken-word proves a bit too trite, and so trying. There’s nothing as remotely memorable as The A Team to be found in Thinking Out Loud or Afire Love, and hearing Sheeran rap on The Man is a bit embarrassing, less like The Streets and more like a dirty back alley.
The good points? Sing, despite our anger at it basically being a Trojan horse, still holds up as a great pop song, and Bloodstream is a revelation as to how brilliant Sheeran can be. Songs like these lessen the pain of knowing that X will sell by the truckload, but it’ll still take a lot more convincing for us to note Ed Sheeran down as a proper contender.