This post was updated July 15 at 10:12 a.m.
Ed Sheeran’s new album is as fiery as his ginger hair.
Sheeran’s fourth full-length release, “No.6 Collaborations Project,” dropped Friday and totes fifteen tracks – each one featuring a different artist. The release follows Sheeran’s 2011 EP fittingly titled, “No.5 Collaborations Project,” which includes 11 artists in addition to Sheeran across its eight tracks, but came before his worldwide fame. While Sheeran started by collaborating with lesser-known artists, his new album includes chart-topping names such as Travis Scott and Bruno Mars. Each track’s sound shifts and morphs across genres to best highlight the featured artists’ voices, showing that Sheeran is capable of branching beyond his typical acoustic love songs.
The opening track, “Beautiful People,” presents Khalid’s laid-back vocals alongside Sheeran’s soft singing as the album’s genre journey begins. The song creates a summertime feel as it unfolds, with echoing vocals and distorted synth sounds that beg to be blasted in a car with the windows down. Khalid’s easygoing style blends well with the softness of Sheeran’s voice as they unite to resist the negative effects fame can have on a person’s life and personality. The two insist on staying true to who they are as they sing, “We don’t fit in well ’cause we are just ourselves,” setting an uplifting tone for the album to follow.
Following the Spanish-inspired “South of the Boarder,” which includes contributions from Camila Cabello and Cardi B, the album takes a turn in a hip-hop direction. Chance the Rapper and PnB Rock lend their talents to the third track, “Cross Me.” Although Chance the Rapper’s verse features lyrics that could be considered cringe-worthy – “No one say hi to me without her/ Better pay your respect to the queen” – the song’s fast-paced synth beats alongside Sheeran’s high notes in the refrain make it lovable and endearing.
Although Sheeran plays with styles throughout the album, he remains true to his signature softer sound on a couple token tracks. “Best Part of Me” and “Way To Break My Heart,” featuring YEBBA and Skrillex respectively, are characteristic of Sheeran’s sensitive and slower hits. Guest appearances, however, breathe new life into what could have been a tried song structure. YEBBA’s voice adds a soulfulness that turns the cliche love song into something refreshing. The beats Skrillex adds into “Way To Break My Heart” turn the somber song on its head and keep it from becoming too melancholic for the LP’s overall upbeat feel.
Transitioning into yet another genre, the album’s sixth track “I Don’t Care” shows Sheeran taking on Justin Bieber’s pop style. While it is similar to other love-inspired songs throughout the album, the track’s fast tempo gives it a playful feel. Bieber’s ad-libbing toward the end of the track, combined with the clapping beat, results in a celebratory sound that is cheesy in its message, but enjoyable to sing along to.
Just as the album seems to take a stylistically pop direction, it takes a turn yet again. Travis Scott’s auto-tuned and bass-heavy sound gives “Antisocial” a dark and distant feel. The edgier sound is matched with equally edgy lyrics as Sheeran repeats “Don’t touch me” throughout the chorus. The track stands out among the positive songs that surround it, but once again adds an impressive variety to the sound and messages Sheeran is able to portray within a single album.
As the album draws to a close, tracks such as “Feels” and “Put It All On Me” begin to blend together due to the similarity in their beats and synth features. The R&B sound H.E.R. brings to “I Don’t Want Your Money” separates the recording from the songs around it, but does not compare to the final track.
“BLOW” picks the energy up, ending the LP with a bang. Sheeran’s newfound ’80s rock sound is something listeners have not heard in his past tracks. Chris Stapleton’s intense vocals mixed with the smoothness of Mars’ verse and Sheeran’s overall gritty vocals are topped with a sprinkling of grunge electric guitar solos. It is a track that will shock Sheeran’s devout fans, but is sure to please anyone with a soft spot for hard rock.
“No.6 Collaborations Project” shows every facet of sound that Ed Sheeran is capable of. A shift between rap, R&B and acoustic guitar within a single album could potentially feel disjointed. However, Sheeran is intentional in his mission to capture the distinct sound of each artist he works with, showing that he is capable of spanning all musical genres with his own work – even something as far from his wheelhouse as rock.