Ed Sheeran is an English singer/songwriter who's captured millions of teenage hearts with little more than an acoustic guitar and a pop formula - perhaps a harbinger of top 40's shift away from glistening dance-pop to earthier styles. Although his second album fills out his bare-bones sound with beats and rhymes that place him on the rap spectrum somewhere between the Streets and Third Eye Blind, X (pronounced "multiply") largely revels in mushy folk-pop sentimentality that offers the same comforting embrace as a Hollywood rom-com.
Sheeran is a smart songwriter with a sharp instinct for fun melodies that will play well live as well as on the radio. He sounds best when pared down but energetic, as on I'm A Mess, and pulls off a JT-esque falsetto on the Pharrell-produced Sing, a bouncy R&B number clearly included for its hit potential.
The appeal is easy to hear, but ultimately X undermines emotional rawness with slick production and lyrical goop that feels calculated and bland. It's music about imperfection with no room for imperfection.
Top track: Sing
Ed Sheeran plays the Air Canada Centre September 18.