The new album X (pronounced “Multiply”) from British singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran was finally released to the world in its entirety on June 23. Upon its release, the deluxe version immediately claimed the top spot on the iTunes albums charts in 65 countries, including the U.S. and U.K. This marks the first time he has released an album on the same day around the globe.
His debut album + (pronounced “Plus”) was released in the U.K. in September of 2011, but it wasn’t until he was considered a full-fledged star in the U.K. that he received any airplay in the U.S. The album was eventually released in the U.S. in June of 2012 and peaked at No. 5 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart.
Sheeran knows just how much is riding on the success of his second album. He stated as much in the recent special “Nine Days and Nights of Ed Sheeran,” which premiered on June 10 on MTV:
I never thought I’d be in the place that I am now after such a successful first album. It is literally a make or break situation,” he admitted. “My career could end in a second.”
Cue the marketing machine, and an inspired one at that. To avoid what is known as the sophomore slump (when a second effort fails to live up to the standards of the first), there has been an onslaught of Sheeran in the last couple of months.
He’s had the previously mentioned special air time; he’s been on tour throughout the album's release process; and during the week leading up to the album release he made one new track a day available on iTunes, garnering him a number of top 10 spots on the iTunes singles chart simultaneously in various countries.
His first single from the album was the dance party track “Sing,” a collaborative effort with today’s King Midas of the radio waves, Pharrell Williams. Catchy, upbeat and fun? Yes, definitely. Substantial? Not really. However, releasing this as the first single — apparently a decision heavily influenced by Williams — was brilliant. This track pleases the masses. It appeals to pop music junkies and hip-hop fans, as well as his already established fan base of “Sheerios.”
There is however an even better way to avoid the sophomore slump: deliver quality music, and deliver he does. Sheeran is, first and foremost, a skilled writer. A fantastic example is “Bloodstream,” a pulsating song that slithers with desperation in the best way possible. His influence of rap and hip-hop is more apparent here than on his last album as he deftly incorporates rhymes on tracks like “The Man” and “Take It Back.”
The latter is available on the deluxe version and seems to be the follow up to “You Need Me I Don’t Need You” from his previous album. Where “You Need Me” was him rapping about being a struggling artist, “Take It Back” is him rapping about how he now knows celebrities but still has credibility.
Songs like “Don’t” and “Photograph” seem destined for eventual radio play, but the soul-infused “Thinking Out Loud” is a standout amongst the rest. Sheeran shines on this acoustic number, professing his undying love first in his lower octave, then building up to a higher, smooth yet raspy hook reminiscent of Marvin Gaye.
Sheeran is currently on tour in Europe promoting this album and will begin the North American leg of his tour later this year.