Ed Sheeran ‘No.6 Collaboration Project’ – Review

30 Jul

I’ve always had a soft spot for Ed Sheeran, an unbelievably popular songwriter who may be too white, too nice, too ginger and too middle class to benefit from poptimism’s warm glow. But songs like ‘Shape of You’, ‘Perfect’, ‘Thinking Out Loud’ and deeper cuts like ‘Drunk’, ‘Tenerife Sea’ and ‘Give Me Love’ are hard to deny and even harder to ignore. These songs are soft, spongey things with very few hard edges but plenty of hooks. Even without the insistent radio play these songs would be hard to forget.

At his best Sheeran satisfies a craving for undiluted emotion with songs that make broad connections via cute melodies and unfussy arrangements. His lyrics – which more often than not are silly and even embarrassing – occasionally strike the perfect blend of relatable sincerity and millennial originality. Arguably, the most successful demonstrations of this are two songs he wrote for other artists – ‘Little Things’ by One Direction and ‘Love Yourself’ by Justin Bieber.

But those qualities are hard to find on the awkwardly titled ‘No.6 Collaborations Project’. Indeed another Bieber collaboration, ‘I Don’t Care’, serves as a good example of how things have gone badly wrong. The track’s rote melody, which feels derivative of ‘Love Yourself’, and oddly sterile production sound unusually cold and ungenerous, while the message of indulgent isolation is equally dislikeable. ‘I Don’t Care’ is the album’s lead single and still the catchiest song on here.

‘No.6 Collaboration Project’ is little more than a calculated playlist of bland, sparkess pop music made with absolute competence and almost no heart whatsoever. It’s music made by a content millionaire struggling to tap in to the vein of hurt and frustration that made him his millions. These songs are generic exercises designed by the same committee responsible for 90% of top 40 radio. Countless other writers and producers worked with Sheeran on these songs, which feel contrived and faceless as a consequence. ‘No6…’ is an album blighted by insincerity, from an artist who’s calling card has been unfiltered sincerity. 

Musically, only ‘Best Part of Me’ serves the soft, muted shades we’ve come to associate with Sheeran. Elsewhere he’s straining to sound relevant by appropriating the sounds and motifs of other genres in to his sexless chart mush. Having steered out of his own distinctive lane, he’s veered sharply and somewhat chaotically in to pedestrian pop. Casualties include Camils Cabello on ‘South of the Border’ which features the kind of unfortunate euphemisms and trite observations that are typical of Sheeran at his unedited worst. The song’s vague calypso rhythm, clipped percussion and Spanish flourishes are calling cards of top 40 radio from, what, 2017? It’s out of date and out of touch.

But the pop songs are significantly better than the rap ones. The original ‘No 5’ collaboration e.p, on which this is loosely modelled, featured well meaning attempts to blend Ed’s sound with grime and Hip Hop. Alongside British underdogs, Sheeran didn’t sound massively under-pace. What he lacked in technical ability and credibility he made up for with ambition and enthusiasm. This time his choice of collaborators feels more calculated. The likes of Travis Scott, Stormzy, Chance the Rapper, Meek Mills, Young Thug… it’s a PR dream team. The problem is, Sheeran is outshone so often it becomes difficult to see what is gained by these ‘collaborations’. Of course It’s no shame to be out-rapped by Eminem, who even on an off day is more proficient than just about any rapper on the planet. But some of Ed’s rhymes, particularly on the lamentable ‘Take Me Back to London’ are empty, braggadocios and occasionally mortifying. You can’t accuse him of playing it safe – but at what price?

Ed Sheeran can rap – listen to his verses on U.N.I’ or ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’ for evidence – but the best place to hear him rap is on an Ed Sheeran album, where his only competition is himself. Here, surrounded by some of the biggest and best rappers on the planet, he is exposed time and time again. 

The album’s failures are not so surprising. Ed Sheeran has been spreading himself thin for a while, and his signature style has never been so diluted. By sharing the writing process he’s given far less of himself than we would expect. By conceding this much to other producers he’s lost sight of what made him popular in the first place.

2/10 

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