“I’ll do my own thing now, and get respect after.”
-Ed Sheeran, ‘Take It Back’
There is something to be said about being the guy that tries something that most consider to be “left-field”. On one hand, if none of us ever stepped outside of our comfort zone, chances are you’d be dwelling in a cave and attempting to start a fire with two twigs instead of reading this review. Conversely, some ideas don’t pan out as well as others, and are perceived accordingly. Ed Sheeran’s sophomore studio album Multiply (stylized as x) treads the fine line between these two schools of thought, and ultimately (yet, admirably) suffers because of it.
The 23 year-old English singer/songwriter’s latest project displays Sheeran’s growth in more ways than one. While his previous album Plus (stylized as +) had many perceive Sheeran as a wide-eyed teen in terms of his content, his new album frequently references relationships and subject matter (drugs, alcohol, etc.) that reminds the listener of his new-found adulthood. Similarly, the album also sees Sheeran dig deeper into his bag of hip-hop tricks, as his naturally acoustic sets are more frequently accompanied by percussive instrumentation.
Both of the aforementioned factors, although interesting at times, create a bit of conflict for the listener throughout the album. A good amount of the lyricism is shallow, lacking much (if any) substance and often repeating itself as Sheeran frequently recounts tales of drunken stumbling, loving and losing, and drug use. He also delivers these tales in confusing ways, going from delivering strong vocal performances and melodies to mixed attempts at rapping entire verses and songs. The album’s production is jumbled as well, as most of the songs were composed in bunches with different producers at different periods and subsequently mixed-and-matched in the track listing. As the album plays, the listener can distinctly and instantly identify which songs were produced by Rick Rubin, Jake Gosling, Pharrell Williams, or Benny Blanco due to the failure to execute on one cohesive vision for the project. Multiply gives off the sense that these songs were all recorded without regard for each other, and put together in the hopes that Sheeran’s acoustic guitar and songwriting could hold them all together, which is asking too much of the young artist. It’s not that the music is bad or unbearable; simply put, Multiply feels less like an album and more like a compilation of songs.
Moving forward, Sheeran might want to figure one or two things out before beginning work on his next project. It’s clear that he can make a good song (there are more than a few enjoyable tunes present on Multiply), and he can craft songs that will perform well on radio and support lengthy tour legs. These things are proven. Sheeran’s next project may benefit from him harnessing the attributes which make those types of records so enjoyable (strong vocals, catchy melodies, subtle hip-hop influences sprinkled over vibrant acoustics, etc.) and embrace them alongside a set production team that can handle the task of building a solid foundation that enhances that sound. An analogy can be made to Magic Johnson’s versatility on the basketball court as an L.A. Laker. Johnson was capable of playing all five positions during his heyday, but he had the biggest impact on the game while playing the position that he was most comfortable and effective in. Hopefully, Sheeran’s experimentation only leads to a realization similar to this one.
Ed Sheeran’s Multiply is appropriately named, as the record displays the growth of an artist and a man. Although it doesn’t hit on all cylinders, there is still enjoyable music to be heard here for fans of his, and the admirable missteps will hopefully lead to more cohesive, wholly enjoyable work in the future. Consider Multiply to be akin to that part of our teenage lives where our growth spurts were responsible for chronic knee pains; we may not be happy with it in the moment, but ultimately the result is one that will be more positive than not. Keep growing, Ed.
+Eclectic, catchy blend of acoustic/folk and hip hop creates very original sound
+Showcases different vocal ranges and musical styles that indicate potential for growth
+“I’m A Mess”, “Sing”, “Don’t”, “Thinking Out Loud”
–Lacks overall cohesion and direction as a body of work
–Lyricism lacks depth; takes away from replay value