“‘Small Bump’ is a sobering reminder that music isn’t always about escapism from the world around us”
Digital Release: May 25, 2012
Physical Release: June 17, 2012
The UK charts are arguably the most predictable in the world. You can almost track it’s progression from the turn of the century – the musical phase-shifting as certain styles and genres becomes gold dust one year and fool’s gold the next. Pop was at it’s strongest in 2001-2003, where it teamed up with many R&B-lite productions whose influences were still hanging around since before the turn of the century. Then came the age of many awkwardly-named indie bands with guitars lead by overenthusiastic frontmen. 2007 saw a minor blip in the pattern as unashamed pop returned for a while and then died out quickly to make way for the electropop/dance revolution that has now stagnated into an opportunistic monopoly of Guetta and Harris tracks. In a world where anything released by anyone rich enough to buy media columns is guaranteed a certified #1 single and accompanying album, there’s very little to surprise us now that the very soul of the charts has been diminished due to anyone with knowledge of how music sells being able to predict #1 singles just by the name of the artist.
However, sometimes, in this inextricably confined and linear strangulation of anything remotely interesting being chart-based, there is the occasional hiccough where someone with a decent work ethic and musical ability gets celebrated; someone who challenges the conventional. Ed Sheeran is a complex variation of hipster-friendly and the overexposed because of his transcendent music and widespread success. And as his début album ‘+’ breaks chart history in the US, his ability to rejuvenate the popularity of the weeping acoustic guitar balladry sound of someone like James Morrison – a sound which has coasted comfortably through most of the chart’s genre fluctuations but seen a great decline aside from his own music recently – you begin to question what exactly Ed Sheeran does that makes him so popular.
But ‘Small Bump’ give us the answer, at least on no certain terms. It’s hard to appreciate much of the sensitivity of his cute little lyrics when there’s that album cover staring back at you, Mona Lisa style. And it’s also hard to being directly derogatory to a song that delicately handles the topic of miscarriages, but ‘Small Bump’ sees Sheeran expend no effort in confronting deliberately complicated topics and still manage to make it sound like someone with an appropriate level of maturity regardless of the poor execution. There’s hints of saccharine idealism and his often feather-weight voice can grate a little, especially when it comes to likening characteristics of a new-born baby to a “half-grain of rice”, but his use of soft instrumentation and lullaby-esque melodic phrases show us Sheeran’s success isn’t so much about singing or playing simply the ‘right’ things. It’s more about allowing the world to have a welcome sit down after all the club stompers have disappeared off into the night; allowing us to realise that music can still be a form of self-healing that doesn’t require a big-voiced diva posing as someone with actual soul. ‘Small Bump’ is a sobering (there’s no other word for it, or Sheeran himself, really) reminder that music isn’t always about escapism from the world around us. It’s a pretty unfashionable niche to be in, accessed only by those emotionally bruised enough to actually appreciate a song like ‘Small Bump’, but it’s yet to see Sheeran place a foot wrong (we’ll ignore the release of ‘Drunk’).