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Nostalgia Archives: '+' (2011) Review

by Julie Toft Carlsen



Ed Sheeran is one of the most successful UK artists of the last decade, with five Brit Awards, four Grammys to date and his last three albums all peaking at number one on both UK and US charts. Sheeran’s worldwide success didn’t happen overnight, but arguably started with his debut album, + (pronounced ‘plus’).

The third single from this album, ‘Lego House’, starred Rupert Grint in the music video at the height of the Harry Potter franchise’s popularity. GIFs from the video circulated Tumblr and I went looking for their source; thus began my love of Ed Sheeran’s music.


courtesy of EdSheeran.com

Released in 2011, + followed eight EPs released independently by Sheeran between 2005 and 2011. These EPs mark the journey of a singer-songwriter finding his sound and developing his vocals, leading to the 13 tracks on his first album released under Atlantic Records.

When I recently listened to this album in its entirety for the first time in years, it struck me that these songs weren’t just a nostalgic return to my life at 14, but formed a well-structured and coherent album. Listening to it on vinyl split the album into two parts, with side A closing on ‘This’, an understated yet earnest ballad, its opening lines ‘This is the start of something beautiful / This is the start of something new’ a cheeky way to close a chapter and invite the listener to flip the record over and start anew.

The third single from this album, ‘Lego House’, starred Rupert Grint in the music video at the height of the Harry Potter franchise’s popularity. GIFs from the video circulated Tumblr and I went looking for their source; thus began my love of Ed Sheeran’s music.

Side B opens on ‘The City’, with Sheeran recounting his years of tirelessly working as an unsigned artist in London and providing the driving force for the second half of the album. ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’ is a fast-paced rhythmic declaration of independence by a competent and confident self-proclaimed singer-songwriter, a brash intrusion halfway through the B-side, perhaps lacking in self-awareness in its adaption from an independently released EP to the record label-released album, yet irresistible with its beat and clever lyrics.

Ed Sheeran at the Hovefestivalen 2012, courtesy of NRK P3 on Creative Commons
+ will always hold a special place in my heart even if it does make me say terribly pretentious things, like ‘I much prefer Ed Sheeran’s earlier work’.

The boldness of ‘You Need Me’ is juxtaposed by ‘Kiss Me’, with gentle vocals in stark contrast to the previous song’s upbeat bustle. The ballad beautifully slows the pace of the album and draws the listener in, setting up the album’s most underrated song, ‘Give Me Love’. A simple guitar riff is accompanied by a melancholic violin, as the song slowly builds through every verse and chorus, pushing and pulling like a current, culminating like waves crashing onto shore with a desperate plea for love. The tension is broken by an almost gospel-like choir comprised of layers of Sheeran’s vocals, a breath-taking way to close the song. The album ends with a hidden track, ‘The Party Hat’, an homage to Sheeran’s Irish heritage and a fitting way to end the journey that + takes you on.

I could talk for hours about the melodic qualities of ‘The A Team’ or ‘Small Bump’, or how even the weaker songs of the album add to its character as the debut album of a seasoned artist, but I’ll end this by saying that + will always hold a special place in my heart even if it does make me say terribly pretentious things, like ‘I much prefer Ed Sheeran’s earlier work’.

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