+ (Deluxe Version)
Ed Sheeran’s appeal has always stemmed from the authenticity his music exudes. After learning guitar from the age of 11, the British singer-songwriter independently put out five EPs, garnering him a sizable and wide-ranging fanbase in the UK. Those early releases notably included 2011’s No. 5 Collaborations Project, a collection that brought together Sheeran’s folk-adjacent acoustic pop with his love of rap, featuring some of the UK’s premier grime MCs (including Jme, Wiley, and P Money). So when Sheeran’s debut album, +, arrived in 2011—the same year he turned 20—it was perhaps not surprising that his voice was occasionally imbued with the flexible elasticity of rap delivery, his soft vocals often bouncing between a bounding quick pace and a slower, more deliberate troubadour style. Produced and written by Sheeran, with help from Jake Gosling—who’s also worked with the likes of One Direction and Lady Gaga—this is an album of simple but affecting pop music, one that wears its vernacular Britishness and youthfulness on its sleeve: A breakup song about Sheeran’s ex starting her undergraduate degree while he’s on the road is titled “U.N.I.”—a reference to “you and I,” of course, but also “uni.” In the scheme of Sheeran’s career, some of the tracks on + now feel a little insipid. But there’s no denying the fact that many have become staples of an era—after all, this is the album that delivered such hits as “The A Team,”“Drunk,” “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You,” and “Lego House.” There’s an earnest quality to these tracks, which tackle alcoholism, the music industry, and lost loves—all of it imbued with a directness stemming from the simple combination of Sheeran and his acoustic guitar. One of the most essential debuts of the 2010s, + established Sheeran’s ear for melody, as well as his knack for communicating with his audience—two traits that would power the singer-songwriter’s career in the years ahead.