He makes an unlikely pop star does Ed Sheeran. In an age where ‘real’ musicians are supposed to be fighting a losing battle to reality TV stars he has snuck his way into the mainstream. Much has been made of his appearance but in truth it’s his music that has made him such an odd guest at the chart party. Here was an artist who chose to do a cover of Jamie Woon doing a cover on his live TV debut, turned up to beatbox for cousin Laura at a State gig and took an eloquently empathetic song about the homeless into the top ten. As we said, an unlikely pop star.
It’s a shame then that + seems to settle so much for the centre ground. ‘The A Team’ is still a startling song and opens his debut in fine fashion, but you do get an awful lot of Sheeran alone with his guitar. unfortunately these are the less interesting moments, perfectly pleasant but drifting by on a wave of silky smooth vocals and often awkwardly adolescent lyrics, particularly when he tries to tackle emotional issues. ‘Small Bump’ is especially mawkish, a sickly sweet ode to an unborn child that would fail to strike a chord with even the most devoted parent.
“I’ll never be anything but a singer songwriter”, he claims at one point yet the truth is he can be so much more and it’s when he does that + really shines. The adventurous spirit of his Collaborations Project EP does rear its head on occasions and ‘Grade 8’ and ‘This City’ display a beat led swagger and semi-rapping style that suits him far better. His lyrics too are far more effective when he adds a bit of spice to the mix, it all coming together on the brilliant ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’. Here Sheeran really does have it all – a great song, great words (including an Irish approved Damien Rice reference) and the feeling that, when he cuts loose, Ed Sheeran deserves all he has achieved and more. The frustrating thing is that + only offers glimpses of what he can do, but they are there (closer ‘Give Me Love’ finally offers the drama that is missing elsewhere). Now he needs to go on and build from this solid start. That he will is most likely.