Sheeran has got to be an unlikely global star by playing bland tunes aimed at targeted demographics. You can snigger but he knows what he’s doing and he’s done better than you. You can’t get any bigger than global superstar so perhaps this album marks the end of his career plan phase one and a move to something he enjoys doing more.
This new album is less child-friendly — kids love Ed, and Castle On The Hill, Galway Girl and Shape Of You seem to be known off by heart by all eight-year-olds — with more swearing than before. Instead of targeting various pop demographics, this time he offers his own user-friendly takes on grime, hip-hop, Latino love songs and rock — closer Blow is a decent soft rock tune, co-written by Bruno Mars.
For the hip hop end of things he ropes in various helpers — little known people such as Eminem, 50 Cent and the ubiquitous Stormzy (who has a lot more charisma) as well as Justin Bieber, Travis Scott and Skrillex. Rather like the Irish shades on Galway Girl, this is not real hip hop or grime but Sheeran’s take on it, and it’s as smooth and commercial as everything else he does. The swears can always be blanked out for radio play (there is a no-swears version of the album).
Sheeran has recently got married — one sleeve photo shows off his wedding ring — and there are a few ballads on the CD, presumably aimed at new couples, with first-dance-at-the-wedding stamped through them like Blackpool rock (and just as sweet and sticky).
Stormzy appears on Take Me Back To London, his charisma and unique sound a contrast to Sheeran’s blandness. Sheeran’s rapping is ok for the radio but doesn’t get in the same building as Stormzy and Eminem. He knows this: while Stormzy sings about the hard life on the streets, Sheeran replies with “I’m back in the biz with my guys / Give me a packet of crisps and a pint.”
The biggest surprise is the closing track, Blow, which although it has a bland chorus does boast guitar riffage, solo and drums. We suspect his next move will be radio-friendly rock that you ask “Who’s that?” and are surprised to learn it’s Ed.
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