I’ve been writing this column for two decades and I can't remember my family ever crowding around the computer waiting to download the same album right at its midnight release.
Yet that's exactly what happened last Monday when Ed Sheeran dropped X (that's code for "multiply,” by the way). It became a bit of an obsession around the house, sparking great dinner conversations as mother and daughters encroached on dad's “music critic” territory.
Though born in Britain Sheeran is Irish to the core, and has spent many a family holiday in Ireland visiting relatives. “Both of my grandparents are from Ireland – my granddad is from the North, and my grandmother is from the south, and I have family in Wexford, Galway, Cork and other places,” he told the Irish Independent in 2012.
X has something for the whole family: sappy ballads for lovesick teen hearts, musings about the passage of time for adults, and a few dance jams to keep the car shimmying for the next family trip!
X starts off with "One," an echoed introspective, acoustic guitar-driven ballad. Sheeran himself admitted during the recent MTV 9 Days and Nights documentary that he writes these types of songs for "the single lonely women out eating pints of ice cream at home."
His voice is a vulnerable warble, barely rising above a whisper at times as he sings, "All my friends have gone to find another place to let their hearts collide/just promise me you'll never lead/'cos you are the only one."
"If you can come back with another hit after your first album was this huge then you've made it; if not, you're finished," Sheeran fretted during the same MTV documentary.
Consider "Sing," the ubiquitous smash produced by Pharrell, an insurance policy against a scenario like that from ever happening. It's a cool and calculated move designed to move units while moving rumps on the dance floor, nothing more or less. What makes X so remarkable is that "Sing" might be the weakest track on the album.
The sun doesn’t stay around for very long after that summer blockbuster ends. "Bloodstream" talks about how the chemicals burn in his blood, while he accounts nights of drink and "illegal weed" with a girl on the song "Nina."
"Don't" has been getting a lot of press, with websites like TMZ having a field day with the ambiguous lyrics about love gone wrong with an unnamed fellow rocker.
"I never intended to be next/but you didn't need to take him to bed, that's all/not like we were both on tour/we were both staying on the same hotel floor," Sheeran snarls. Is it about friend and touring partner Taylor Swift?
His autobiographical, rapid fire rap "Take it Back" sees the ginger pop star telling how he was "grounded like a paperweight" after living on the streets for many years. He takes a swipe at the haters but not without poking fun of his geeky image. "I'm a singer you never want to see shirtless" he declares. I'll drink to that!
The formula of hip-hop, caffeinated folk does start to wear thin after a while. We all like ice cream but you'll get sick after eating a tub of it, right?
It's then that the stunningly beautiful "Thinking Out Loud" sneaks up on you. A breathtaking piece of blue-eyed soul that's a musical cousin to James Blunt's "Beautiful" and U2's "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of," the song finds the singer promising to love someone forever, even after his voice breaks and his fingers can no longer coax magic from the strings.
You read it here first -- this will be the song they play as a first dance to welcome the new couple at weddings for decades to come.
“Even My Dad Does Sometimes” is one of those sad songs that hurts so good, while "Afire" is another strong track about love and loss of a grandparent that displays his mastery as a songwriter.
If X is any indication, Sheeran’s gold records will multiply over a long career.