no 6 collabs

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

August 16, 2019

TEST SPIN | Ed Sheeran — ‘No. 6 Collaborations Project’

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Eight years ago, Ed Sheeran released his fifth EP, No. 5 Collaborations Project, an eight-song album where each song features a different artist. Three albums with mathematical operation titles later, Ed Sheeran is undoubtedly one of — if not the — biggest pop star on the planet. It seems as if perhaps Sheeran is nostalgic about this old EP and his life before stardom. Sheeran’s latest EP, No. 6 Collaborations Project, finds Sheeran having fun and making music with his famous new friends.

The cast of musicians on this EP is impressively diverse, ranging from country golden boy Chris Stapleton to trap visionary Travis Scott, to even dubstep DJ Skrillex, as well as plenty of other pop stars and singer-songwriters. The project seems to act as a mixtape of Ed Sheeran’s influences and interests. As such, I believe the EP shouldn’t be held to an expectation of theme or structure. In this review, I’ll be focusing much more on the songs individually and the reasons why this project was produced.

No. 6 Collaborations Project is unfortunately but unsurprisingly very bad. TheEP sees Sheeran phoning in half-baked attempts at pop or singer-songwriter tunes and in other moments, shoe-horning himself into genres where he is ill-suited, resulting in an album stuffed with ungodly creations and mediocrity.

At the project’s best moments, Ed Sheeran pairs himself with a talented musician that is complementary to his own style. “Beautiful People (feat. Khalid),” “Best Part of Me (feat. Yebba),” “Put it All on Me (feat. Ella Mai)” and “I Don’t Want Your Money (feat. H.E.R.)” are all decent songs but feel somewhat undercooked. Yebba, Ella Mai and H.E.R. especially could have been given much more room to shine, as they delivered great vocals when given the chance. Khalid sounded as lazy as Sheeran on “Beautiful People,” which has him chip away a bit at his reputation, in my eyes. I see the potential in these songs to be very fun for the listener, but considering how forgettable they are, they feel much more like album fluff to bring the track number up.

The album also has some very ugly moments. “South of the Border (feat. Camila Cabello and Cardi B)” is a vain attempt at diversity that falls flat on its face, not to mention the song itself and features are entirely useless. “Antisocial (feat. Travis Scott)” is a Frankenstein’s monster creation where Travis Scott and Sheeran singing together is like trying to jam a cylinder in a triangle hole. It just does not work no matter how hard they try, not to mention Scott barely even features on the song. “Remember the Name (feat. Eminem and 50 Cent)” is a tired throwback to Eminem’s younger sound, but the trio clashes constantly. “Feels (feat. Young Thug and J Hus)” triggered a knee jerk response of horror in me. Thank god it was only two minutes long.

Finally, “I Don’t Care (feat. Justin Bieber)” is probably the most offensive song on this album considering how popular it is right now. The song just does not work. Sheeran and Bieber have no chemistry, and you can barely differentiate them in the washed-out mix (except for Bieber’s horrible pronunciation of “part-eeeeeee”). The horrible high-pitched chorus sounds like if Michael Jackson was punched in the face while he sings a “hoo-hoo.” I want to avoid this song as much as possible.

Despite these huge problems, the album had some better moments from songs I didn’t expect to enjoy. However, there is always a piece of content that undercut the quality or funny moment of the song. For example, “Cross Me (feat. Chance the Rapper and PnB Rock)” holds together melodically but includes some really cringey toxic masculinity posturing. This is the kind of song that needed Cardi B on it to provide a foil perspective. “Take me Back to London (feat. Stormzy)” was a fun listen but is too corny and hyper-British to take seriously. “1000 Nights (feat. Meek Mill and A Boogie wit da Hoodie)” started off well, but after some fun verses from Meek Mill and some solid Ed choruses, Boogie crashes the party with an absolutely gross verse and hollow flexing.

“Way to Break my Heart (feat. Skrillex)” doesn’t feature any of Skrillex’s famous dubstep chaos, which worked in the song’s favor. Still, it was missing an edge and I couldn’t help feeling confused as to why Ed chose Skrillex over any other DJ to deliver a generic mix. Finally, “BLOW (feat. Chris Stapleton and Bruno Mars)” was my favorite song on the album, but features such dumbfounding lyrics such as “you make me want to make a baby.” Halfway through the song, bobbing my head, I realized that the reason I liked it was that Stapleton and Mars are such better artists that Sheeran right now, and tonally, Sheeran sounded like a fish out of water on this track.

Ultimately, No. 6 Collaborations Project doesn’t offer much of anything that I would recommend. It features so many forgettable tracks and some horribly unforgettable bad ones. Even at its best moments, it reminds you how much better Ed’s guest stars are than his own bland approach to pop music. I know I’ll be listening to Traveler or 24K Magic countless times before I return to this project.

James Robertson is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at jar524@cornell.edu