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Pop - Released September 9, 2011 | Atlantic Records UK

Adopting the old-fashioned route to success by playing a grueling 300 gigs in 2009 alone, Ed Sheeran's blend of singer/songwriter balladry and acoustic hip-hop has built up quite the fan base, ensuring his debut full-length album, simply titled Plus, is one of the most hotly anticipated releases of the year. Unfortunately, it's the former, rather than the latter, which dominates the follow-up to his grime-inspired introductory No.5 Collaborations Project EP. Indeed, the unexpected hugely popular response to lead single "The A Team," an achingly tender tale of a heroin-addicted prostitute (think a socially aware James Blunt) seems to have thrown him off course, as rather than pursue the more urban direction that set him apart from his contemporaries, the majority of Plus' 12 tracks feel like self-conscious attempts to replicate its sound. The sparse piano chords and stream-of-consciousness delivery ("I knew you loved Shrek cos we've watched it twelve times") of "Wake Me Up," the gentle percussion and lilting piano hooks of "Small Bump," and the melancholic wistful folk of "This" are all melodic, Damien Rice-esque numbers that would no doubt go down like a storm on one of the many open-mike nights Sheeran used to frequent. But for an artist who has built up a reputation for his inventive fusion of sounds, they are disappointingly back-to-basics affairs which offer little that hasn't been heard before. However, Sheeran is a much more interesting prospect when his unassuming manner is accompanied by an array of skittering hip-hop beats and staccato R&B licks. "You Don't Need Me, I Don't Need You" is a blistering swipe at the music industry which shows that while he may not have the conventional image of a rapper, he certainly possesses the quick-witted attitude; "U.N.I." combines Snow Patrol-esque guitar hooks with a breakneck-speed delivery reminiscent of Craig David's early 2000s output; while some dirty, scuzzy guitars and electronic bleeps are thrown into the mix on "The City," which deals with his experience of moving from his hometown of to the bright lights of London. With his casual jeans and hoodie, and relatable tales of relationship woes, university, and getting drunk, it's easy to see why Sheeran has struck such a chord with the late-teens/early-twenties crowd. But his debut's failure to capitalize on his unique selling point means it's likely to leave everyone else nonplussed. ~ Jon O'Brien

Dance - Released September 1, 2017 | Atlantic Records UK

Pop - Released August 11, 2017 | Atlantic Records UK

Dance - Released June 30, 2017 | Atlantic Records UK

Pop - Released May 22, 2017 | Atlantic Records UK

Pop - Released April 7, 2017 | Atlantic Records UK

Pop - Released March 17, 2017 | Atlantic Records UK

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Pop - Released March 3, 2017 | Atlantic Records UK

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Pop - Released March 3, 2017 | Atlantic Records UK

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Pop - Released March 3, 2017 | Atlantic Records UK

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Pop - Released March 3, 2017 | Atlantic Records UK

Ed Sheeran turned into a global superstar after the release of 2014's x and while fame did his head in a bit -- he took a year off of social media, a hiatus that happened to coincide with the time he worked on his third album -- it's also true that fame suits him. That much is clear from Divide, the album he released to eager anticipation in March 2017. Compared to its two predecessors, Divide -- which, like its predecessors, has its title rendered as a mathematical symbol -- is colorful and lithe, casually hopscotching from style to style without ever drawing attention to its range. Sheeran long ago perfected his rapping busker schtick, which frees him to fulfill his destiny as an adult alternative troubadour. Such sentimental smashes as "Thinking Out Loud" paved the way for Sheeran to plump up Divide with love songs and unveiled confessions, which, in turn, lets him play around with different styles throughout the album. "Dive" finds Sheeran easing into old-fashioned Memphis soul, a supple groove countered by his decision to go full Celtic on "Galway Girl" and, on the deluxe edition, he celebrates Spain on "Barcelona" and dabbles in Graceland-styled Afro-beat on "Bibia Be Ye Ye." Ultimately, these splashy sounds are merely accouterments on an album that leans heavily on Sheeran's sentimentality yet this flair gives Divide welcome color, helping to put his standard tricks in sharp relief. Sheeran can still be clumsily literal -- the worst arrives earliest, when he sniffs "friends and family filled with envy when they should be filled with pride" on "Eraser" -- but such stumbles are balanced by flashes of cutting wit, such as the dissection of the "New Man" of his old lover. Despite this wordplay, the chief appeal of Divide is Sheeran's musicality, particularly his facility in turning his folk-rap into adult pop. Throughout the record, Sheeran seems assured in his smooth schtick, and that cheesy confidence, combined with the hints of new style, help make Divide his easiest album to enjoy. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Miscellaneous - Released February 24, 2017 | Atlantic Records UK

Miscellaneous - Released February 17, 2017 | Atlantic Records UK

Miscellaneous - Released February 10, 2017 | Atlantic Records UK

Miscellaneous - Released February 10, 2017 | Atlantic Records UK

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Ed Sheeran in the magazine
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