Ed Sheeran's new album, No. 6 Collaborations Project, is a sequel to a series the singer-songwriter began before he was a superstar. Sheeran released five EPs in a row in the hope of landing a record deal, with the fifth being No. 5 Collaborations Project, an eight-track record that featured an assortment of UK grime artists, including Wiley, Devlin and P Money (not the Kiwi).
Eight years later, Sheeran returns with a new collaborative album, this time with an enormous level of star power that reflects his ascent over the past decade. No. 6 features collaborations with Justin Bieber, Khalid, Camila Cabelo, Stormzy, Travis Scott, Eminem and 50 Cent, to name a few, and such is the level of talent present that Sheeran becomes the most forgettable artist on his own record. He's the glue that connects each song, with his trademark rapid-fire hooks and sing-rap style present on each track, but he's upstaged time and time again by artists who sound much more at home, flexing their agency in the genres of pop and RnB over Sheeran's best efforts.
Sheeran's innate pop sensibility is not to be sniffed at, however; I Don't Care, with Justin Bieber, features an instantly infectious chorus, complete with a falsetto vocal howl, while Cross Me is a similarly catchy pop tune – although Chance The Rapper and PnB Rock provide the better verses on that song. That continues to be the case throughout – on South of the Border (which makes the misguided choice to use border crossings to Mexico as a metaphor for sex), Camila Cabelo and Cardi B take over at the halfway mark and throw their own party. Stormzy's odes to his and Sheeran's shared hometown on Take Me Back To London are far more gripping than Sheeran's ego-driven reflections: "you can win BRITS/And you can do Glasto/But when you're miles away and you're feeling alone/Gotta remember that there ain't no place like home."
The highlights of No. 6 are when Sheeran invites rising RnB singers Ella Mai and H.E.R on Put It All on Me and I Don't Want Your Money respectively. Both are effortlessly charismatic singers who sound so good, you'll be wishing Sheeran cut down his verses to make way for their choruses. That's not to deny Sheeran's immense talent and beautiful voice, both of which hold this album together. By and large however, Sheeran feels like the lettuce in this salad; the bland base ingredient you ignore in favour of the real flavour.
Ed Sheeran, No. 6 Collaborations Project
No. 6 Collaborations Project
Sheeran is upstaged by his own guests on a nonetheless catchy pop-RnB record.