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Single review: Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape Of You’ & ‘Castle On The Hill’

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Is it just me? Am I just an old humbug? Or are Ed Sheeran’s two new singles really nothing special?

There. I said it. I am underwhelmed.

It’s not that Shape Of You isn’t sensual, poetic and catchy – it is. It’s not that Castle On The Hill isn’t a tender, uplifting piece of pop – it is. And it’s not as though either of those singles could do anything other than hit the apex of the charts in a heartbeat – they did.

But after two years of the incessently ubiquitous hits of X, surely it wasn’t too much to hope for something…fresh? Sheeran has always been a passing interest of mine, an artist to play when I need a sentimental or angst-ridden singalong. He owes me no particularly great debt of fandom, and yet I feel cheated.

If you’re not too outraged to keep reading, I’ll explain myself now, I swear.

Shape Of You was always going to steal the limelight. Flirty, sexy, catchy as all hell…on paper it works, out loud it sounds like a rework of Nina with a little bit of Don’t thrown in. Is this really all Sheeran has to offer? It’s a solid comeback, but it’s so. damn. safe. Also, TLC’s No Scrubs keeps popping into my head every time the pre chorus starts and that is just not a good thing.

Castle On The Hill offers a surprising change of pace – perhaps Sheeran’s attempt at a new flavour of songwriting? – but it sounds strangely anonymous after the textbook songwriting of the sister single. Although Sheeran delivers with satisfactory character, Castle On The Hill could belong to anybody. Most plausibly, in the introduction, U2 circa The Joshua Tree.

Are you still reading? Did you make it? Do you think I’m crazy?

It’s just…after the sweet nothings of +, 2014’s X offered grit and swagger and a maturing sound. While Shape Of You and Castle On The Hill are deserving chart-toppers amongst the swirl of radio favourites, they have ultimately failed to build on Sheeran’s ever-promising foundations. Did Thinking Out Loud leave such a big void that we will happily greet regurgitated inspiration with such enthusiasm? Evidently so.

But keep grooving, kids – there are worse songs you could get excited about. Having had my vent, I shall now banish my disappointment to the quietest murmurings and leave you be. (Bah. Humbug!)

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DAN SULTAN @ The Metro 11.7.14

Even with a severe case of Man Flu, the Sultan of swagger still managed to put on a rockin’ good show.

Dan Sultan: A little huskier than usual at The Metro last night, but still putting in 100%.

Minutes after walking onto The Metro stage to a solid wave of whoops and cheers, and blasting through Blackbird album-opener Make Me Slip, it looked like Dan Sultan mightn’t last the night. 

“I’ve gotta be honest with you…I’m sick as a f—ing dog” Sultan confessed early in the set, obviously disappointed with his physical condition. Numerous offers of fatherhood, shouted out – mainly – by those audience members in possession of ovaries, confirmed his fans did not share the same disappointment. They were here to support a guy whose music they love, and if he was feeling under the weather that just meant they were going to “cheer” him up in a very literal sense.

Sultan’s crowd is an eclectic bunch, consisting of hipster fortysomethings and happy-go-party young ‘uns with a beverage in each hand. They mingled happily, dancing and whooping to the catchy rock riffs and egging on every little groin-thrust and hair-flick from the man they had paid to see. The adoration was not wasted on Sultan, who stopped mid-set to thank this particular crowd for being “inspiring”. He doesn’t let it go to his head though. “You’re so hot Dan!” screamed one enthusiastic fan, to which Sultan quipped “I’m hot? Of course I’m f—ing hot – I’m under all these lights!”.

Warming (perhaps literally) to the support of his audience and the high-energy material, Sultan didn’t let his virus-riddled state interfere with the rock n’ roll we’d been promised. He coughed a little, chugged some water, then proceeded to sing like a man who had little concern for his vocal chords (or the fact that he has twelve more gigs lined up for the Blackbird tour). Throwing in extra guitar pyrotechnics when his voice needed a rest, by the time Sultan closed a three-song encore with the exhilarating Kimberley Callingwe’d almost forgotten we owed this gig to cold-and-flu meds.

The set list was clearly designed to promote Sultan’s new album Blackbird, and the crowd was duly pleased with brand new rockers like Ain’t Thinking About You and The Same Man. Popular 2013 single Under Your Skin sparked a raucous crowd singalong, but when Sultan pulled a few from the archives Old Fitzroy sparked renewed cheering and flailing limbs all across the dance floor. It was clear last night’s crowd had been with Sultan for a while.

Evidently both thrilled and relieved to be writing again, Dan paused to reflect on the purpose of this tour – his new album. “It’s been a while between records, friends” he sighed, curiously vulnerable for a moment (his last full-length release was 2009’s Get Out While You Can), but the ensuing cheers promised a warm welcome for the new material. Indeed, Blackbird is proof that we should be thrilled and relieved Dan’s writing again too. 3.5/5

Dan Sultan’s third studio album Blackbird is out now, through Liberation Records.