Pop Song Review: Ed Sheeran & Rudimental, “Bloodstream”

You know, I do have to thank Ed Sheeran. As little invested as I am in his music or his career, my review for his mega-hit single “Thinking Out Loud” remains among this blog’s most popular posts. It even earned me my first death threat. So let’s see how this one goes: today’s pop song review is “Bloodstream” by Ed Sheeran & Rudimental.

First impressions: I haven’t experienced anything quite this start-stop-start-stop since I first started learning to drive. Yeah, I was… I was a slow learner.

The music: Although Rudimental are given joint billing on this song, it’s technically a remix of the original version that can be found on Sheeran’s latest album, x (presumably to be followed-up by ÷ and That Squiggly Line and Straight Line Symbol That Means Equal To But Not Really). You can listen to that version here (or, you know, your own copy, given it sold over 2 million units in the UK alone) and make your own mind up about it but we’re reviewing the remix today, and the question to be asked, therefore, is whether Rudimental’s version improves on the original or not. Does it?

Well, to quote Reverend Lovejoy: short answer, yes with an “if”, long answer, no with a “but”. The original version wasn’t a great song but it had a minimalist acoustic vibe to accentuate its intimate, defeatist melody. The production was dry which gave the track a humbling drunken swagger, like a boozehound who walks the streets like he’s king of the world despite the fact he’s only out on the streets because he’s trying to walk off a brewer’s droop. The remix gives the song a bit of a pop sheen and some electronic bloops that, honestly, I’m not sure it ever needed, but if that’s what people want then it’s what they’ve got. It’s a little funkier in the verses, too, which I don’t mind.

And then it kicks in. If you know anything about Rudimental and the type of music they make you know exactly what I’m talking about here: that Red Bull-swigging, fifth-gear-pushing, Flash-speed, ecstasy-driven, turbo-charged dance beat that a stampeding herd of wildebeest would find breathless. I’m not sure these guys are capable of composing a beat slower than 180bpm and if they are they’re certainly not ready to give it a go here. Even Iron Maiden could kick back to write something like “Remember Tomorrow” once in a while. Haven’t these guys heard of Horlicks?

So no, I don’t care for the Rudimental addition here, mostly because I’m not sure what it’s actually supposed to add. Sure, you can argue that it actually fits the concept of the song, assuming the chemicals burning in his bloodstream are methamphetamine and not, I don’t know, aspirin, but it’s still distracting and doesn’t emphasise any of the music’s original qualities.

So what was the point? To make it more club-friendly? You know, not every song needs to be reworked for der clurrrb and not every song needs to be danced to to make it mainstream material. I couldn’t dance to the original “Bloodstream” but I still quite enjoyed it for what it was. The “mm-hmm” bit is fine on its own; it doesn’t need a stupid galloping beat underneath it. You might disagree but to my ears it just comes off as the production equivalent of Rudimental going, “look at us! Look at us! We’re all fast and stuff!”

So to answer my original question: does this improve on the original? Well, yes, if you like Rudimental; and no, because the dance remix wasn’t necessary and actually trips up the original music which was at least endearing, but it’s not awful, I guess. It just isn’t very good and actually comes off as a little weird.

The lyrics: Ed Sheeran has drunken sex with a random woman. Have we, er, have we been here before?

“I’ve been spinning now for some time / Couple women by my side.” Sounds like a fun game, that. Do the women hold you up by the arms and spin you around themselves? Oh, that’s not what he’s singing about, is it? *sigh* It never is.

“I’ve been sitting here for ages / Ripping out the pages.” Yes, I know Where’s Wally? can be frustrating, but that’s not how you find him.

“I’ve been looking for a lover / Thought I’d find her in a bottle.” Jeez, he really is drunk, isn’t he? You know you’ve had too much when you’re seriously considering trying to pull Tinkerbell. No, I’m joking, that’s obviously not what he means. He’s just helping to set up the story of his “sin” by explaining how he got so hammered that his inebriated lust felt like the deep sensation of love for this random gal. Admittedly he could have phrased it a little better, but then so could I have just now, so there we are.

“Lord, forgive me for the things I’ve done / I was never meant to hurt no one / I saw scars upon a broken-hearted lover.” So he feels shame for exploiting a vulnerable woman going through her own heartbreak. Well, it probably won’t put the creeps who do actually do this on a regular basis in their place, but at least he’s taking culpability, which is something John Newman was weirdly reluctant to do in last year’s aptly-titled “Blame“. Also, is this one of the women by his side at the beginning? Or maybe even someone else? Tell you what, if you’re going to go have shameful drunken sex, you might as well go all out, mightn’t you?

“Coloured crimson in my eyes.” Oh dear. See, I have a few choice words that immediately set off red flags whenever I hear them used in music lyrics and “crimson” is one of them. Ever since Evanescence moaned about “pouring crimson regret” in “Tourniquet” the word has come to represent, for me, one of the worst examples of cheesy, overblown cornball lyricism – the mark of a poet trying far too hard to come off as “poetic.” This isn’t a Byronic epic. Just say red, for crying out loud.

“Don’t leave me alone lonely now / If you loved me how’d you never learn?” Oh, Ed Sheeran, will you never learn?

“This is how it ends / I feel the chemicals burn in my bloodstream.” So he’s overdosed? Well, that’s a bit depressing. What a sad and strangely poetic end for this tragic and flawed but intrinsically human character. NOW LET’S GO NUUUUUTSSZZ!! WOOT!! RUDIMENTALZZ YEAH!!!1!1!

“Tell me when it kicks in.” I’m not your dealer. Figure it out for yourself.

Verdict: I don’t mind “Bloodstream” all that much, but this cynical EDM do-over and its dumb bursts of intense speed only serve to detriment what charms the original had. That version I’d give a 3 but this silly Rudimental version with its random fast bits I’m only giving a 2 out of 5. Silly Rudimental.

Today’s double-up is something a bit more relaxing in comparison: “Raining Blood” by Slayer.

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