Is Ed Sheeran really the new Justin Timberlake?
That was the alarming suggestion when Sing appeared a few weeks back. Sheeran's audacious collaboration with Pharrell Williams is a somewhat unexpected single of the year contender, a slinky, sexy shot of R&B pop that does indeed reframe the strawberry-blond troubadour as a British JT. If it sticks, that's one way to beat the second album blues.
And + is a tough act to follow. Sheeran's 2011 debut was absolutely massive, a career overture with sales in the Adele class. Countless artists have come a cropper second time around, but Sheeran's got the confidence to sidestep the dumper, even if he does fall prey to the odd sophomore cliché. You know how newly successful artists whinge their backsides off about the perils of the global gig circuit? Yeah, well.
Endless touring's the price of instant success and it plays havoc with your lovelife, of course. "You're waiting for me," he hopes on low-key opener One; "I'm not cut out for life on the road," he laments on the Streets-y The Man; "Wait for me to come home," is the theme of Photograph. It's classic woe-is-famous-me stuff that'd get tiresome if x didn't have another side.
Fortunately, there's that JT facet to move Sheeran on a bit. For every couple of acoustic weepies, there's a funky R&B lick like Runaway or Don't to keep the pecker up. The latter even manages to get in some sharp digs at a celebrity ex-girlfriend for a touch of intrigue (Ellie Goulding's the favourite) that offers more spark than all of + put together. A welcome advance.