People really do get hung up on authenticity, don’t they?
Ed Sheeran has been ticking integrity-boxes so fast you can practically hear his hands still whirring in the background of his debut album. He’s got the touches of ‘urban’ styling with flimsy hip-hop rhythms and Plan B-lite veering between half-arsed rapping and boyband emoting. He’s got the ‘issues’ songs (the Dido-ish, maudlin ‘Drunk’, the omnipresent saccharine horror of the drugs/homelessness/prostitution triple-whammy of ‘The A-Team’). He’s got the unimpeachable DIY backstory.
If you weren’t familiar with his journey from schoolboy songwriter to major-label strumming-sensation, he’s kind enough to repeat it again on ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’, a beatboxing-assissted manifesto with some of the least-convincing fronting you’re ever likely to hear. (“I’m real, I do it all it’s all me… don’t need another wordsmith to make my tune sell”… “people think that I’m bound to blow up/I’ve done about a thousand shows/But I haven’t got a house because I live on a couch… selling CDs from my rucksack” etc etc etc).
He’s missing the point, here. He doesn’t have to convince us about where he’s coming from, so much as where he’s at. He could be as artificial as Astroturf as long as the songs hit home, but the likes of the horribly mawkish ‘Kiss Me’ with its weary violins and forgettable breathy warblings are a million times as ersatz as the BRIT school graduates he scores lyrical points off. The funniest thing is how dated and tame it all sounds coming from someone with such obvious drive to succeed (though he’s signed to Atlantic for his debut proper, a string of self-released EPs and mini-albums created a genuine word-of-mouth success).
There’s little here that’s moves on from the kind of trip-hop balladeers that abounded in the late ’90s or indeed the singer-songwriters that Sheeran admires such as Damien Rice (whose presence is felt on ‘The Parting Glass’, the Celtic-tinged folky lament that closes the album) or James Morrison. Compared to say, a fresher-sounding dance-pop crossover like Jamie Woon, as genuine as the man himself might be the songs still sound good for little more reality than soundtracking a nasty breakup in ‘Hollyoaks’.