This summer, our favorite bespectacled ginger emerged from the depths of his Atlantic recording studio with a 15-track album buzzing with an eclectic mix of EDM, pop and R&B vocalists, and let me tell you, this one was…interesting. “No.6 Collaborations Project” is a follow up to Sheeran’s 2011 EP “No.5 Collaborations Project,” a concept album in which every track features a different guest vocalist performing in a different musical genre. Despite sampling a diverse array of styles from trap to new wave Latin on “No.6,” Sheeran manages to make each track indistinct through lazy writing and dull production. In the end, Sheeran’s voice floats just above that of his featured vocalists, with flat lyrics and predictable instrumentals preventing the vocal fusion one would expect from a collaborative tape. No song is particularly awful, each one is just aggressively “meh,” a cheap club filler with no surprises and a clear objective: to make money without pushing the envelope.
The album opens with the anesthetizing “Beautiful People,” a track likely to grace the speakers of Forever 21s across the world in which Sheeran strains his vocal range and bumps clumsily against the smooth baritone of co-vocalist Khalid. “Beautiful People” is indicative of a theme throughout the record: Ed Sheeran complaining about having to attend L.A. parties. The “I’m not like other girls” aesthetic that claims a pseudo down-to-earth exceptionalism recurs in the sixth song on the album, “I Don’t Care,” in which Sheeran and Justin Beiber bemoan having to interact with social climbers. I mean, every 30 seconds a child dies of malaria but sure, Ed, I’m sorry you “could use some help gettin’ out of this conversation, yeah.”
As the album plods on, Sheeran finds his footing in his R&B collaborations with Ella Mai and H.E.R. While still quite generic, the glittery female performances on tracks “Put It All on Me” and “I Don’t Want Your Money” steer Sheeran’s vocals through simple melodies and slick baselines. Another bright spot on “No.6 Collaborations Project” that provides the listener with some much needed authenticity is “Best Part of Me.” Picking up where his soulful acoustic records “+” and “divide” left off, Sheeran strips away his suffocatingly bland production and croons to a sweet guitar lull which feels refreshing on an album otherwise devoid of personality.
Despite a few intriguing tracks, Sheeran ushers in the second half of his album with a song so chaotic I have dedicated half of my review to describing it: “Remember The Name.” “Remember” begins with a simple descending guitar hook, stomp-clap piano chords, and Ed lamenting being misunderstood by the industry. It seems like we’re in for a classic “no one understands my truth” doozy, but buckle up because at the 56 second mark, this song descends into utter chaos. Without warning, the acoustic backbeat acquires a synthy electricity and Sheeran’s vocals drop by what feels like an entire octave. With the stomp-clap beat swelling in the back, Ed suddenly adopts a southern drawl as he sings that he wants to “crack on and be paid” (without knowing the lyrics, “crack on” sounds like “crack corn”). Suddenly, the listener is transported to a hoedown throwdown. Then, as if the unforeseen trip from England to rural Alabama wasn’t weird enough, rap legend Eminem hops on the track to offer what feels like a discarded b-side verse from his 2017 album, “Revival.” After Em’s verse rolls awkwardly into the chorus, Ed pulls a fast one once again when 50 Cent shows up to provide us with lyrical gems such as “the turn up be so real, we ’bout to be super lit.”
In the end, I don’t mind if artists release music that I don’t personally like––I would actually encourage all performers to step out of their comfort zone and experiment with new styles. My issue with “No.6 Collaborations Project” comes from its blatant cynicism. Listening to the tape, you can hear record executives pulling data on the trend forecasts for 2019 and crunching the numbers on how cheaply they can produce mind-numbing club beats while still raking in Spotify listens. As one song bleeds into the next, it is made abundantly clear that Ed Sheeran did not plumb the depths of his soul to write “Ooh, I got the feels, yeah I waited most my life ba-da-boom, ba-da-bing.” So next time Ed, take your craft more seriously, and maybe listeners will take you more seriously in turn.