Ed Sheeran is the world’s biggest pop star. “Shape of You” is on track to become one of the top-selling singles of all time, while he’s already the most successful touring musician in history. He’s an inescapable force in today’s modern music landscape. So 2 years since the release of his record-breaking album Divide, it only makes sense that he has to drop a project to hold on to the perch that he’s set himself on within the public consciousness.
A sequel to his No. 5 Collaborations Project, an effort that saw Ed Sheeran working with UK acts like Wiley and JME to create a record that’s more about style than substance. Still, the album is an enjoyable romp that showed Ed’s penchant for hip-hop. On No. 6, he looks beyond his home country and taps into talent from all over the world, describing it as “a compilation album of artists that I am a fan of.”
Being a collaborative album, it was safe to assume that there would be a blending of styles and ideas which would lead to great experimental pop tunes like “Antisocial w/ Travis Scott”, easily the best song here with its psychedelic beat and inspired vocal performances (though it does end up sounding like an Astroworld B-side). If not, there would be songs where everyone involved would step out of their comfort zone, like “Cross Me w/ Chance the Rapper & PnB Rock” with its dance-flavoured aesthetic being a surprisingly fitting backdrop for the pairing of these acts. Even with huge stylistic missteps like “BLOW w/ Chris Stapleton & Bruno Mars”, the interesting detours still give the album a ‘diamond in the rough’ charm to it. Hence, it’s even more disappointing that these 3 tracks are the only times Ed tries anything remotely different.
Ed Sheeran first arrived onto the music scene with nothing but his acoustic guitar and endearing songwriting, crooning his way into the hearts of millions worldwide. These traits are largely absent on No. 6, instead most of the songs on here feature bouncy pop production that Ed struck gold with on “Shape of You”. The light drum beats, bright keys and cute hi-hats are all present here, boy do they overstay their welcome.
Lead single “I Don’t Care w/ Justin Bieber” alongside “Beautiful People w/ Khalid”, “South of the Border w/ Camila Cabello & Cardi B”, “Put It All On Me w/ Ella Mai”, “Feels w/ Young Thug & J Hus” and “Way to Break My Heart w/ Skrillex”; all feature production styles and structures so identical, they’re almost interchangeable. It’s pop sterilised to its most basic, even down to the little ticks within Ed’s verse structure are repeated throughout. Additionally, the production also drowns out certain guest contributions (Khalid) or severely limits other guests due to the backing tracks forcing them to dumb down their performances to fit the track’s aesthetic (Cardi B, Skrillex).
No. 6 Collaborations Project could have been the album that Ed Sheeran proves to his naysayers that he can be more than just an inoffensive, sanitised pop star. Yet, all he does is continue down the path of churning out generic pop tunes that appeal to the widest audience range as possible. It’s just more of the same and it can’t be any more disappointing.