Twenty-year-old Suffolk performer Sheeran might have been inspired to pick up the guitar by Damien Rice-ish songcraft, but it was teaming that with a love of the urban underground that led to his half-rapped, loop pedal-based reading of ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’ becoming a sensation on grime website SB.TV.
On this debut album, the tracks where he combines those influences show Sheeran at his best. The rapid fire staccato speech of ‘U.N.I.’ has flows to put many MCs to shame, ‘Grade 8’ is all ‘Next Episode’-era Dre-ish piano stabs and thumping beatboxing, and occasionally he offers up genuinely brilliant rhymes.
Elsewhere, Sheeran shows a flair for spartan melody, but far too much is the kind of hyper-emotive, breathily sung, weepy acoustica that screams for a black-and-white video of a weeping woman staring through a rain-streaked window. Pity, as this is a furrow over-ploughed by the world’s Jameses (Morrison, Blunt, etc). Still, more of the urban-influenced tracks and he could be an interesting voice.