Sheeran's album (pronounced as "multiply", not as the letter) has become the fastest selling album of the year so far, with 182,000 sales in its first week, 14,000 more than Coldplay managed with Ghost Stories in May. It features his first No 1 single, Sing. (The Guardian)
But, more significantly, these are genuinely great songs, where melodies flow, rhythms groove, choruses erupt and lyrics jab you with surprises. The core of Sheeran’s appeal is his apparently effortless absorption of contemporary musical styles. He can slip smoothly through the gears from soulful balladry (One, Photograph) to edgy, rocky drama (I’m a Mess, Bloodstream) to anthemic singalongs (Afire Love) to twisty, poetic hip hop (The Man), sometimes all in the same song (his irresistible number one hit Sing, recorded with pop producer of the moment, Pharrell).
Throughout it all, Sheeran stays true to the essential artistic notions of the classic singer-songwriter genre by treating his music as a vehicle for emotional veracity, personal revelation and universal inclusion. For older listeners struggling to connect with contemporary pop, Sheeran might just be the artist with the x factor.
x's first third is not without its issues but there is charm, not to mention the feeling that Sheeran really is trying to raise his game. A pity, then, that the remaining 35 minutes is alternatively as generic and simpering as it gets. Once 'Don't' snaps shut, that's about it for anything revelatory or engaging. 'Nina' could make up the numbers on any unremarkable boy band's unremarkable album. That the cloying 'Photograph' - which narrowly avoids crashing into Bruno Mars' 'Just The Way You Are' - is co-written and produced by a member of Snow Patrol should surprise nobody, given that it follows their heartstring-tugging script so resolutely. At least it moves. 'Tenerife Sea' is pure slush, 'Runaway' never gets going, while the aggressively-saccharine 'Thinking Out Loud' is the musical equivalent of drowning in quicksand. 'Afire Love', awash with heavenly hokum, never should have escaped the studio.