It's a little glib to call Ed Sheeran the U.K.'s answer to Jason Mraz, yet there's a grain of truth in that statement. Like Mraz, Sheeran plays around with hip-hop cadences but at his core he's a singer/songwriter, and a sensitive one at that, one who prefers love tunes to songs of protest, something that is quite evident on X, his second collection of original songs. Although he sometimes pours out his heart armed with no more than an acoustic guitar, he's not a troubadour; those hip-hop roots means he'll not only ramble out a rap, but he's also quite comfortable with luxurious, shimmering textures and buoyant melodies. Naturally, these traits surface clearly on "Sing," a collaboration with Pharrell Williams that contains some of the natural ebullience of "Happy," along with the upscale whitebread rap of "The Man," but this good cheer surfaces on songs that are far removed from rhythm. When Sheeran sings slow, he rarely sings sad: he's a hybrid of Chris Martin and David Grey, a boy next door who hasn't lost his shaggy romanticism. His sweetness isn't cloying, not even when the productions are aimed straight down the middle of the road, which they often are on . His boyishness doesn't give these immaculate confections grit so much as a wet, wide-eyed puppy dog heart. Sheeran is so good at this AAA gloss that whenever the mildly manic rapping surfaces -- which X does about every three songs or so -- it's a bit of sand in the Vaseline, preventing X from operating as smoothly as it'd like. Nevertheless, these gangly excursions in rap are evidence of Sheeran's youth and his generation, something that keeps X from being merely a bit of excellently crafted mature pop and gives it some appealing character.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine