Sound: After years of plugging away with independent releases in the UK underground scene, young artist Ed Sheeran finally found commercial success midway through 2011 with the release of his debut LP, the minimalistically titled "+".
At the base of Sheeran's sound is the often upbeat strumming of acoustic guitar with a vocal range for me reminiscent of American singer-songwriter Joshua Radin, prominent but subtle, always emotive and lyrically poetic. Sheeran extends the dynamic by implementing elements of hip-hop into the sound as well, be it with rapping and/or beats.
The two lead singles set out quite a precedent prior to the release of the record. Debut single and album opener "The A Team", about a girl stuck in a drug addiction, is essentially the sound of Sheeran and a chilling acoustic guitar, but lyrically serves as a very strong moment and showcases his ability to fuse the poetic and the heavy with ease. The follow up to this, "You Need Me, I Don't Need You" goes musically and lyrically down the other path, Sheeran rapping against the backdrop of a looped and pacey acoustic riffing away, a big beat and layered background vocals. The bind between the two songs ultimately being the emphatic delivery, on this song Sheeran lyrically covering his journey and present ride as an artist in the industry today, the wording fresh and rife with current references.
Following the release of these two singles, the intrigue would be on which direction the record would generally take. Ultimately the majority of the tracks here go down the more chilled, acoustic-led route, and the lack of more up-tempo hip-hop led moments may serve as a disappointment to those won over by "You Need Me", which is the only moment the style completely dominates. Unsurprisingly though, when Sheeran bridges the dynamics together he achieves strong results. "U.N.I." ticks along at a literally spelt-out pace, but intense rapping in the verses and one of the more effective chorus sections make it particularly memorable, and "The City" musically rivals "You Need Me" with the added kick of overdriven guitars and additional keyboard sequencing, Sheeran delivering one of the more soulful vocal performances on top of this.
Save for the more R'n'B flavoured acoustic work and rhythms shown on "Drunk" and "Grade 8" which are refreshing, the rest of the record progresses gently, the dynamic as stripped back as it can be at times with just Sheeran's vocal and either acoustic or piano accompaniment in a few cases. Of these offerings, third and latest single "Lego House" is probably the strongest, Sheeran seemingly more direct and emotive in delivery, vocally and acoustically, with a particularly strong vocal performance on the bridge where he sets out to push himself a little further. Despite the lack of hip-hop styling, the record does achieve a solid balance, however the mellow triple header in the middle of the album, "Wake Me Up", "Small Bump" and "This" may wear some listeners down a little bit, all three treading the same ground musically and to a further extent lyrically with regards to content. // 7
Lyrics: Undeniably what Sheeran does lyrically is the big plus-point on this record. Poetically sound throughout, his eye for detail and inclusion of many common reference points whilst all the while sounding very intimate will resignate with many. That said, in terms of content, Sheeran, as mentioned before, does tread on similar ground with his words on love, as seen intimately and from a distance. The topic dominates and therefore elevates the alternatives - "The A Team", "The City" and "You Need Me, I Don't Need You" - to a stronger point within the record. // 7
Overall Impression: "+" is a good record which some great moments, and as a future prospect Sheeran is definitely one to watch with his blending of many styles and approaches. If his debut record had a couple more moments where it reached the intensity of "You Need Me" in terms of style and tempo, whilst also lyrically branching out a bit further, we could well have had a classic. // 7