I hope I’m not the only one getting sick and tired of the success story of Ed Sheeran, propelled as it is by an infrastructure propelled in turn entirely by a generation whose musical taste is consistent with streaming figures alone. This week’s number one is genuinely a pathetic little ditty in a host of ways. The same four chords are played throughout, adorned with precisely no alteration in rhythm to provide interest in that area; the instrumentation is limited almost entirely to electronic midi tones, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but when the most exciting change in texture is the addition of a single note played on a muted electric guitar, you’re doing something wrong. While this backing may seem to invite a closer inspection of the lyrical content, as with many Ed Sheeran tracks, you’d be doing yourself a favour by ignoring that completely.
The line I find to be the least conducive to my appreciation is his invocation to have “Van the man on the jukebox” for his first dance with a lovely young lady he’s picked up while drunk at a bar (which he assures his listeners is not essentially consistent with the same standard set by picking up a young lady at a club in the first two lines). We’ve all seen the now easily recognisable photos of Sheeran after a few drinks, being propped up by a burly man in a black t-shirt at some ghastly red carpet event last year, and as anyone familiar with Van Morrison will be able to tell you, he didn’t look as though he’d manage very well dancing to that brand of music. That aside, it would be one thing to invoke Van’s influence in a song if it were easy to draw him out of Sheeran’s music as a possible influence, but this isn’t a simple or even a possible exercise by any stretch of the imagination. One described a “marvellous night for a moondance”, with the October backdrop dripping Autumnal romance, while the other describes the way he and his partner “push and pull like a magnet do”. You get no reward for divining which artist penned these lines.
Luckily for us, Ed does manage to go the full length of this track without reminding us he didn’t go to university, a characteristic which he wears like a badge of honour. There’s nothing wrong with him not having a degree, I hope it goes without saying; but there’s quite a lot wrong with the way he keeps the fact near enough to hand, that he may staple it into whatever song he’s currently working on, as if it means any more the second time he mentions it than it did the first.
Many of Sheeran’s lyrical efforts read as if they’ve been put together by a series of dice rolls and wheel spins, each of which correlate to a different setting or character, in this case, the characters being himself (that’s consistent), and a girl who we learn has an attractive body and likes all you can eat Chinese food, in the settings of the aforementioned bar, Chinese joint, and then a taxi. I know Sheeran has his whole boy-next-door, street gimmick going on, but do you expect me to believe a girl would meet him at a bar these days and be happy to visit a Chinese buffet on a first date the following week? Where the conversation consists of, and I quote, talking “for hours and hours about the sweet and sour”? Call me materialistic, but I’d be put off by this kind of cheapness coming from a Glastonbury headliner, I hate to say. I’d be especially ticked off if after a week, all that my latest squeeze had to say about me was that they were in love with my body. Okay, I personally wouldn’t mind it. Then again, to be fair to Sheeran, for someone to come up with “hours and hours” of content about a pretty standard Chinese dish, they’d need to have precious little worth mentioning where their intellect was concerned.
Sheeran’s disproportionate success is nothing new of course, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying than, for example, Petula Clark being the act that broke the Beatles’ streak of number one hits in the week they released Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever as a double A-side. “Petula who?”; I know. Anyway, there you have your dose of withering pop lyrical criticism for the week.