He’s the prodigious wunderkind who has served the last few years as perhaps pop’s most unlikely champion. It’s a lot to take in at such a young age, andX(say it “multiply”, like on a calculator, see) attempts to not only make sense of this whirlwind, but to also prove that Sheeran’s debut, 2011’s+(say it “plus”… yeah, you get it), was more than a mere six-string fluke.

Mostly, he succeeds. It does, however, come at a cost – while tracks like ‘Sing’ and ‘Thinking Out Loud’ are sharp and vocally dynamic pop, they are both overtly indebted to Justin Timberlake and John Mayer, respectively.

The A-team (pardon the pun) of producers, including Pharrell Williams and Rick Rubin, ripens and shines the songwriting as best it can, and it’s a completely fine effort on Sheeran’s behalf. One does ponder, however, where the record may have ended up if he had stuck with the striking vocals-and-guitar roots of tracks like the opening sequence of ‘One’ and ‘I’m A Mess’.

The defining, all-encompassing Ed Sheeran record is still yet to come. Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had with X. Now, sing.

3.5/5.

X is out now through Atlantic/Warner.

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