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|Ed Sheeran "+" Review|
|03-10-2011 11:16 | 0 comment(s)|
| From the title down, his current hit You Need Me, I Don't Need You presents 20-year-old singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran as a very cocksure customer indeed. He pours scorn on other artists given a leg-up into the charts by songwriters-for-hire or the munificence of the BPI: "Don't need another wordsmith to make my tunes sell , my shit's cool , I didn't go to Brit School."
It all seems a little at odds with Sheeran's likably unassuming image: on his website, he offers retail space to liquorice allsort-themed jewellery designed by his mum. Then again, you can understand his bullishness. His success this year has seemed phenomenal, soundtracked by screaming girls: You Need Me rocketed straight into the top three, while its predecessor, The A-Team, a lachrymose portrait of a young drug-addicted prostitute, spent three months in the top 10. He has arrived in the charts already a star, thanks to his own tireless efforts to build a fanbase without the aid of pluggers and press officers: a punishing live schedule that involved playing more than 300 gigs in 2009 alone, six self-released EPs and three albums in the last six years, the last – an album of collaborations with various UK rappers, with whom he shares a love of rapid-fire lyrics and slightly clunky pop-cultural similes ("on cold days cold plays out," he sings on Drunk, "like the band's name") – managing to muscle its way into the lower end of the album chart.
Indeed, even before Atlantic put it out last week, You Need Me was said to have sold 120,000 copies. Sheeran has already released it himself as a single, an EP track and in a 10-minute live version – interpolated with a cover of 50 Cent's In Da Club and a freestyle rap about smoking dope, alas delivered in a mock-Jamaican accent – that even the song's most ardent fan might perhaps consider a little too much of a good thing: "Where I come from, burning weed is a habit , something I've inherited like a ghetto man should," offers Sheeran, who comes from Framlingham in Suffolk, a market town voted the No 1 place to live in Britain by Country Life magazine.
The kind of person who once believed the internet would give keen-eared kids the opportunity to break free of the stifling conformity of the music industry and alight on new sounds too groundbreaking, confrontational and futuristic for cautious record companies to countenance might let out a little yell of horror at Sheeran's rise. The kids who like him do indeed appear to have spent the last few years ignoring the sclerotic conformity of the music industry – but have been listening instead to something that sounds exactly like it could have been released by a major record company. You can see why. Sheeran has a really good grasp on the kind of topics that would matter to his young audience, touchingly detailing a teenage miscarriage on Small Bump and a love affair dashed by the clearing system on U.N.I., while The City captures the rootlessness of a school leaver departing their hometown. But his cottage-industry past and chumminess with Wiley notwithstanding, Sheeran is an utterly mainstream artist: The A-Team, for example, is essentially Phil Collins's Another Day in Paradise for the Moshi Monsters generation. You Need Me mentions two of his key inspirations: fleetingly famous pop-rapper Just Jack and Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice. The latter's influence is particularly pronounced on +'s hushed closing tracks, Kiss Me and Give Me Love, both accomplished songs, although you search in vain for the hint of the small-hours weirdness that marked Rice out from the glut of post-David Gray singer-songwriters. In fact, Sheeran sounds like the artist Rice's record company pushed him to be, a state of affairs that led the Irishman to shave one half of his head midway through a US tour in a bizarre tonsorial protest against the overpromotion of his debut album.
Indeed, at its worst, + is a pretty winsome business. The halting style and conversational lyrics of Wake Me Up – "I know you love Shrek because we've watched it 12 times , I've always been shit at computer games" – sound exactly like that grisly Match.com advert in which a berk with an acoustic guitar woos a berkette over their mutual love of The Godfather Part III. A listener who can keep their last meal down during that, however, might note that apart from his teen appeal, Sheeran's strength is his melodic ability, a way with a really strong, radio-friendly tune, as on The City or Grade 8. You can't help wishing he'd put said ability to slightly more edgy use, but then again, he still might: at least there's evidence that Ed Sheeran might still be around when the screaming girls grow up and calm down.
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