Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

Album review: does Ed Sheeran get by with a little help from his friends?

There are so many styles of music on this album, but it's all knitted together by an impossibly high level of songwriting

English singer Ed Sheeran. AP photo
English singer Ed Sheeran. AP photo

If anything, Ed Sheeran’s new album does two things. It lets him show off his tremendous range, and it lets him show off his impressive contacts book.

A stunning who’s who of music’s top stars – including Cardi B, Justin Bieber, Travis Scott, Khalid, Eminem and Bruno Mars – appear on No. 6 Collaborations Project. The result is an understandable scattershot of styles – G-Funk, grime, trap, R&B, tropical hip-hop, ballads, hair metal – but what knits it together is an impossibly high level of songwriting and an undeniable joy.

Sheeran seems to revel in playing with Migos effects (Skrrt!), rapping with Eminem, singing in front of a horn section and being on a track with Cardi B purring “Okurrr”.

The title of the 15-track project is a nod to his 2011 No. 5 Collaborations Project, which saw Sheeran team up with British rappers. This time, he welcomes everyone from HER to Paulo Londra, an artist from Argentina. If listeners go on to explore some of the ­lesser-known collaborators – like the brilliant rapper Dave – then everyone wins.

Standouts include Cross Me with Chance the Rapper and PnB Rock, Take Me Back to London with Stormzy and Beautiful People with Khalid.

Despite all the collaborations, there are little touches that remind you it’s a ­Sheeran album. He’s still got that loveable misfit thing going on, despite earning acclaim and millions of bucks. Two songs – Beautiful People and I Don’t Care with Bieber – have ­Sheeran at a party where he feels he doesn’t belong. “I always feel like I’m nobody,” he sings.

One thing that has changed is that marriage seems to agree with Sheeran. If in the past he was creeping a little in an ex’s DMs, the newly-wed Sheeran has created an album awash with love messages to his wife. “I’m stickin’ with my baby, for sure,” he sings on Cross Me. On Put It All on Me, he admits: “Having my woman there is good for my soul.”

A few of the guests elevate some songs – Stormzy and Yebba, among them – but there are a few underwhelming tracks, including the ­Sheeran-Ella Mai union Put It All on Me and the Bieber song.

Missing home is a continual theme. He does yearn for ­someone that’s not Mrs Ed Sheeran on another fun track, South of the Border, a kind of American cousin to his Galway Girl. He and Camila Cabello celebrate a lass with “brown eyes, caramel thighs” who makes him cry out (OK, a little cringingly) “te amo, mami”.

Finally, Cardi B storms in to play up the double entendre of the title and announce: “I think that Ed got a lil’ jungle fever.”

A few of the guests elevate some songs – Stormzy and Yebba, among them – but there are a few underwhelming tracks, including the ­Sheeran-Ella Mai union Put It All on Me and the Bieber song.

For the last track, Sheeran, Mars and Chris Stapleton – just take a moment to wrap your head around that stunning trio – get into a Led Zeppelin groove with Blow, an absolute headbanger. “Pull my trigger / Let me blow your mind.”

Too late. Our mind was blown a few tracks ago.

Updated: July 16, 2019 07:23 AM

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