Ed Sheeran is a musical phenomenon, like him or hate him this is something that pretty much everyone has to agree on. There is no way that an English singer/songwriter, who’s first song is about a prostitute dying of a cocaine overdose, who refused to ever move away from the solo guitarist with a loop pedal act, should now be one of the biggest pop stars on the planet who can sell out arenas like Wembley Stadium…
From the very first time I heard the song The A Team on Freshly Squeezed on Channel 4 there was something different about Ed Sheeran. There was a quirky and interesting nature to the songwriting and the way he chose to talk about the harrowing tale at the centre of the song, and this sense of intrigue was only backed up by songs such as You Need Me, I Don’t Need You, and Grade 8. There was no doubting that this was a performer who knew exactly what he was trying to do in his career and exactly how he wanted to do it.
His debut on Later… with Jools Holland in 2011 further built on the reputation that he was developing, as one of the most promising and talented young performers on the circuit at the moment…
However, in the years since, the Halifax-born songwriter has released three albums that have left me very underwhelmed. Moments of proper magic like The A Team and This City (+), Sing and I’m A Mess (x), and What Do I Know? and Shape of You (÷), were often drowned out by uninspired songs like Kiss Me (+) and Photograph (x). There seemed to be too many cases of Sheeran going through the motions rather than actually exploring the incredible talent and ear for experimentation that he has. And there is no excuse for him to not be willing to experiment and try new things, he is commercially bulletproof. This isn’t a case of a record label stopping a performer from trying something new because they are afraid to let him change his sound for fear of lower sales, they know that at the moment he can do no wrong so the best option is to let Sheeran do whatever he wants and know that nothing bad will come of it, the fact that the atrocious Galway Girl even got recorded, never mind released, is testament to that.
Anyway regardless of the reservations and disappointments that I have about some of the music created by Sheeran, there is no doubt that he is easily one of the most talented and charismatic musicians on the planet at the moment, and he seems like a lovely lad as well. So, for that reason, rather than focus on what I perceive to be the weaker points in his discography to date, let’s look at some of the triumphs.
The A Team (+, 2012)
This is probably the first song that most people heard by Ed Sheeran, and if so, what an introduction. A good songwriter has the ability to create and tell stories through their music and that ability was blatantly obvious here. Sheeran has since said that his has found it strange that a song about a prostitute overdosing on cocaine was being sung back to him at gigs by hordes of 14 year olds, but regardless it’s the song that launched him into the limelight and marked him out as a genuine talent.
Grade 8 (+, 2011)
I just really like the use of the metaphor of musical excellence being used to talk about somebody playing your heart.
You Need Me, I Don’t Need You (Live at the Bedford, 2011)
Another song where I have to make a distinction between two different versions. You Need Me, I Don’t Need You was another one of the very early songs that I heard by Ed Sheeran and again it marked him out as something different. Unfortunately, I thought that some of what made it so interesting was lost on the shortened single version, but live it is a properly wonderful exclamation of defiance and confidence.
Shape of You (÷, 2017)
The excitement that spread around the music world in early January 2017 when a message went up on Ed Sheeran’s official twitter account teasing that new music was coming was everything you’d expect after the previous two and a half years of silence. The first batch of releases came and it brought two new songs by the songwriter, Castle On The Hill and one of the song that would define the year. It showed invention and marked a change in direction for the performer, it was brilliant.
Bloodstream (x, 2014)
My favourite song by the songwriter, and everything that is good about Ed Sheeran when he is in full flow. He is on record of saying that it is his favourite song to perform live and it’s easily to see why. A track that demonstrates all that he could be if he tried to push himself with his songwriting a bit more.
More songs like these please, Ed…