On his second album, X, Ed Sheeran supersizes his romantic affliction: Each new day is a fresh chance for this guy to hit the bar, fall in love, get his heart stomped like a bug – and then dissect the gory remains over a pretty acoustic melody. A pop-wise folkie who's equally comfortable in coffee shops and the Top 40, Sheeran, 23, has written with Taylor Swift and for One Direction, among many others. He went multiplatinum with 2012's +, and it seems like the experience might be starting to rattle the English singer-songwriter's head, not to mention corrode his liver. A better album title might have been XXX.
On "Don't," a girl he likes sleeps with his friend in the same hotel where Sheeran is staying. On the raw-boned "Bloodstream," he sits at the bar wondering "how'd I get so faded." Sheeran, who worked with Rick Rubin and Pharrell on X, incorporates hip-hop and R&B into his plaintive songs (see the Justin Timberlake hommage "Sing"). There are plenty of oversweet ballad moments ("Tenerife Sea"). But he can be surprisingly hard-bitten, too. On "The Man," he straight-up raps that if he doesn't change his cider-drinking, spliff-lighting, bad-loving ways, he might be "writing my will before I'm 27," the age when Kurt Cobain died. Here's hoping the kid finds a nice girlfriend and a better role model ASAP.