‘No. 6 Collaborations Project’ album review
album: No. 6 Collaborations Project
artist: Ed Sheeran
release date: July 12, 2019
star rating: two out of five
review by Levi Yager
A sequel to my all-time favorite Ed Sheeran album? Where do I sign up? When I found out the pop sensation was putting out a follow-up to his impeccable No. 5 Collaborations Project from 2011, I was stoked. In truth, that EP was the only Ed Sheeran release I could ever really to get into, and I was pumped for another project in that vein.
Sadly, I was kind of let down. Now, it’s not all bad, but No. 6 Collaborations Project is definitely more than a stone’s throw from the greatness of No. 5. Instead of taking a bold departure from his more-formulaic pop side – like he did with the No. 5 project – Sheeran largely sticks to his now-cemented radio sound and merely adds a pinch of his other stylistic capabilities. It easily leaves you a) wanting more or b) bored. Or possibly both. To make matters worse, No. 6 is mostly about crushing on girls. While that’s not inherently bad, it’s somewhat disappointing when you recall that No. 5 dealt with different – and sometimes darker – subject matter that was surprising and refreshing to hear considering Sheeran’s typical romantic fare.
Nevertheless, here we have No. 6 in all its inconsistent glory. So let’s dig in.
Getting things started is “Beautiful People.” For the first track, it’s decent. I’d say it actually might be one of the better songs on this record. It sets up a sizzlin’ beat with soft synthesizers, and it has some good melodic hooks. The lyrics take a look at the paradox of living in the limelight, and the song’s written in a half-serious-half-humorous tone. Everything works well enough in “Beautiful People” that it’ll at least keep the listener on board for track two, “South of the Border.” And here’s another cut that’s not quite amazing, but it’s not outright terrible either. I’m still invested at this point. It’s a fun song about a Latin American love interest, and its spunky bouncing-back-and-forth provides a neat, energetic dynamic.
Next, there’s “Cross Me.” My faith in No. 6 is wavering after this one. The first two songs were passable, but the third ultimately drops the ball since it fails to bring any fresh ideas to the table. Honestly, I’d say it’s a sign of the unimpressive compositions to come.
Thankfully, however, before we get to those, there’s “Take Me Back to London” at number four. Finally, some of the UK grime rap we heard back on the No. 5 project. “Take Me Back to London” winds up tight verses and lets loose a simple, effective chorus. This is exactly the sort of thing I wanted to hear from the new collaborations project. Sheeran and Stormzy pick up the slack in every way with this track. It implements shifty strings with a no-nonsense beat and contains lyrics about being homesick after touring. It’s probably the best song on No. 6. With that, my faith is restored.
And not so soon lost! Wouldn’t you know it, there’s another hit right around the corner. “Best Part of Me” has Sheeran in his well-established element as he croons in a lovesick falsetto about being with a girl he doesn’t deserve. He plays to his strengths with this slow song, and he has a solid pick with YEBBA as the featured singer. “Best Part of Me” is a cool change-up – even using acoustic guitar plucking for its main instrumentation – and it’s done right.
Alas, a sudden betrayal. The majority of the remaining tracks either hover somewhere near average or straight-up nosedive into pop slop. “Antisocial” is an exception, though. Despite being fairly one-dimensional lyrically, it stands out as the seventh song due to its decisive musical direction; the beats are fucking sick, and the vocal performances really put the verses to work.
But there’s nothing else worth mentioning till the last two tracks. “Way To Break My Heart” is the first of these final highlights. It starts with slow, sincere electric guitar that sounds like it came straight from something by The Outfield, and Skrillex uses bright, muted wobbles later on to achieve the perfect vibe for a low-key song about losing love. “Way To Break My Heart” succeeds in being an interesting experience and providing No. 6 with new sounds. Luckily, the album ends with a bang. An unexpected collab with Chris Stapleton and Bruno Mars, “BLOW” comes out of nowhere and will blow your mind if you’re an Ed Sheeran fan. It’s an indulgent, bombastic 80s-style rock anthem with a sweet vocal hook and blazin’ electric guitars. On top of that, it’s peppered here and there with classic R&B choir parts. Simple, to-the-point and a ton of fun. I don’t know where this song came from, but I don’t care. And I kind of want to hear more of this side of Sheeran. On the other hand, some good things are best in small doses. Regardless, “BLOW” is a strange, yet strong closing to No. 6 Collaborations Project.
In the end, I’m happy that Sheeran released another one of these projects, and it seems like he had a good time working on it. Yet it’s sad that the timeless No. 5 is followed by a collaborations project that can get old so quickly. Maybe it has something to do with the much longer tracklisting; this album could’ve benefited from some trimming in certain places. Either way, No. 6 falls short of my expectations for various reasons. Yes, a lot of the songs are accessible and singable, but many don’t go much farther than that. No. 5 was an unprecedented, weightier experiment from Sheeran, while this release showcases lesser songs that will probably be playing on the overhead at numerous retail and fast food chains – like his other recent singles. It’s more of what’s already being pumped out by the mainstream. You’ll hear a lot about girls’ lips, hips, scents and skin, and the main musical focus is obviously synths, beats and vocals. The album too often feels like bankable, predictable pop music with recurring urban flares, and it doesn’t escape from identifiable, generic tropes. Sure, it has its moments, but they’re not frequent enough to totally tip the scales. No. 6 Collaborations Project is OK, but that’s just it. It could’ve – and arguably should’ve – been great, especially knowing what came before.