If you don’t flinch while listening to playground clichés and lyrics formed of simple, derivative couplets, then buy this record, dear reader, as it may have been recorded especially for you.
You likely came across the triple platinum Damien Rice album, back when it was all over the telly. You then chuckled unresponsively last Christmas when the only tune from the album that you still remember well enough to hum (that one about a metaphoric cannonball) was covered by a girl group on X Factor UK whose name was pinched from a children’s charity.
These are the songs conning us to feel our hearts have been touched – although only as our genuine reaction, that of a kitchen whisk in the gut causes secondary shivers through the discs of our spine that finish their rumblings at the breast bone.
Like Rice before him, Ed Sheeran is a singer resigned to innocuous pop songs. Yet, + (for that is the name of this album, in a world where words must prove irrelevant) owes as much to the faux R&B of bucks like the young and cantankerous Chris Brown as to any tradition of white boys waving guitars and crooning pleasantly about the stars.
Listen to “Lego House” or “Small Bump,” and Sheeran’s warbling vocals are heard pinned up against what sounds to be the support of a convenient drum machine. Or, take as your example “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You,” where the singer mumbles through the following phrase: “I sing, I write my own verse, hell/Don’t need another wordsmith to make my tune sell”. He continues: “I sing fast/I know that all my shit’s cool/I will blast and I didn’t go to BRIT School/I came fast with the way I act/Right I can’t last/If I’m smoking on a crack pipe”.
Sheeran’s kidding no one when he name drops a drug habit – this is a man who wore a suit to the BRITs because his parents were in attendance. On record as a tee-totaller, the singer instead offers up a minor satire on some breed of anachronistic rock and roll hipster: part Amy Winehouse, part the kids from The Kooks; part Pete Doherty, we may imagine, and even part Adele, who does employ a co-writer for the lyrics.
But the boy should be careful what he crows. His own shoddy rhymes read of a GCSE poetry class and, if we ignore the backing music, might readily spring from the grinning mouth of any ironic teenager TV presenter.
If a singer’s going to be interesting, we need something in his or her songs that shows testament to the everyday, that sheds a spot of light upon the human soul. There is nothing of this with Ed Sheeran, whose lyrics ring no more of the truth than the Liberty Bell does of secular democracy.
I used to joke with a friend about the English pop stars Busted, that they were probably a half-decent punk act before Universal Records’ talent mongers secured their grappling fists around them. We can say the same about Sheeran.
In some parallel universe, where the average record buyer knows the difference between an original melody and a cover version with simply the words changed, there is a credible, though slightly poorer Ed Sheeran playing gigs in a New Zealand coffee house. But for now, he remains the unremarkable disorder amassing statues gifted at the BRIT Awards. Everybody continues talking about him, and by the end of the year he’ll be a multimillionaire.