Ed Sheeran is the type of singer-songwriter who works hard at his graft for yonks before finally managing to wrestle a foot in the door of the mainstream world. Well done him. Take that, Simon Cowell. Etc, etc.
Trouble is, his recent smash hit ‘You Don’t Me, I Don’t Need You’ – though, yes, very catchy and commendably accomplished – is a contradiction in itself. Lyrics slamming the state of affairs in the music industry are at odds with the fact that the song itself is only his second track to be put out into the mainstream, by the mainstream. It’s like if ‘X Factor’ bosses decided that this year’s Christmas Number One effort should be of the same ilk as ‘Killing In The Name’: making a point of standing up against the exact kind of thing it is itself.
In short, for all his anti-mainstream principles, ‘+’ sounds very mainstream. That’s not strictly speaking a bad thing – we shouldn’t let such words become a factor in whether a body of work is good or not, as it should speak for itself regardless of how it is released – but it does undermine tracks like ‘You Need Me I Don’t Need You’ and make them sound bitchy rather than righteous. And by the way, I don’t share Ed’s thinking that singers who don’t write their own songs should be sneered at. If it’s a good song, it’s a good song; and the abilities of whoever did write it shouldn’t be disrespected just because scribe and singer are not the same person. But I digress…
Sheeran has some good, well-crafted songs on ‘+’, but its the rear end of the LP where he really starts to find his own identity and carve out an interesting sound for himself. Final two tracks ‘Kiss Me’ and ‘Give Me Love’ are flawless, and future single ‘Lego House’ is pretty good too. At the top of the set ‘UNI’ and ‘Grade 8′ make for enjoyable listens and the inexplicably popular ‘The A Team’ remains perpetually sweet.
But it’s that song, the one that spent week after week after week in the UK Top 10, that sums up this album quite perfectly. It’s likeable and well-crafted, with enough spunk and personality to pull off cool song titles. But in terms of standing apart from the conventions of the industry, it’s about as Sainsbury’s-friendly as you can get. In fact on ‘Wake Me Up’ it’s easy to think you’re listening to one of those annoyingly quirky adverts for Match.com where the guy sings funny lyrics to the girl. ‘+’ is fine, but it has its fair share of ‘-’ as well.