Ed Sheeran's "X" album.

Ed Sheeran's "X" album. Credit: Asylum/Atlantic Records

Ed Sheeran proved early on how less can be more.

Armed with only his acoustic guitar and his charm, Sheeran quickly established himself as an arena-filler with his brutally honest tales like "The A-Team."

On his follow-up, "X" (Atlantic), pronounced "multiply," Sheeran manages a remarkably difficult task -- broadening his sound without losing the immediacy of his raw, intimate tales.

Astonishingly, superstar Sheeran is still willing to wear his heart on his sleeve. (No other arena headliner is likely to be as revealing as Sheeran is in "I'm a Mess" -- except maybe his BFF Taylor Swift.) But he's also ready to hide it away for a bit.

The Pharrell-produced "Sing," with its Justin Timberlake-influenced falsettos and unshakable groove, is a musical shock from Sheeran. But he makes it work because, at his core, Young Ed is a storyteller and "Sing" is a great story.

"The Man" is an even better one, as Sheeran raps about how "success is nothing if you have no one there left to share it with" as believably as Eminem and then sings his own hook of "I don't love you, baby." His worries about falling into a booze-and-weed-fueled spiral that leads him to "die from a thrill" at 27 is both eloquent and poignant.

However, Sheeran's strength is still the acoustic guitar ballad, though "One" and "Tenerlife Sea" show how he has improved in structuring those songs as well. And, as powerful a pop statement as "Sing" is for Sheeran, it's likely the lovely "Thinking Out Loud" will outlast it.




BOTTOM LINE Broadening his sound and skills.

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