Everyone’s favorite guitar plucking ginger is back and slaying it with yet his latest line of mathematically titled albums.
After impressively going Platinum and nabbing Grammy Nominations for X (Multiply), it feels like an understatement to say that we here on Mother Earth have “Fallen For” British Folk Singer, Ed Sheeran. There’s just something about his blended classic acoustics, infectious beats, hip hop/rap routines, straight shooting lyrics, and gruffly yet boyish charm that just resonates with us. This time around, he has decided to take a more Divided approach to his music (÷), in both sounds and messages. The themes found therein range from joy, pain, nostalgia, fame, love, lust, life, death, (*gasps for breath*), loss, peace, and alcohol, loads and loads of alcohol. The music therein is likewise unpredictable. But more on that later. For now, what Is Sheeran truly trying to say in this multi-faced album? Life. That’s what I believe it to be showing, just a vessel of life. I wish I could break it down into a more enthralling and spiritually challenging description, but it’s just not one of those albums. Sheeran just seems to be taking a snapshot of where he is in this chapter of his life, and that’s not entirely a bad thing.
Let’s start with track one, shall we? Eraser is perhaps the most revealing and personal of songs (as well as the concluding track) in the list. It opens up in a very self-recognized cliché manner, by telling us fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Heard that one before? Sure, so has Sheeran, but it’s not something he wants to gloss over neither. In this track, he describes for us what brought him here to begin with, friends and loved ones (specifically his father). But things go south quickly as other loved ones abuse his newly found popularity. He even has to admit this new life comes with challenges, specifically in the form of temptations (“every day that Satan tempts me, I try to take it in my stride”). These moments are so challenging in fact that he describes them as “H**l” (one of two profanities in the album), and can’t help admitting it’s like a drug he can’t quit. A rather refreshing and relatable admission, isn’t it (not the profanity, obviously)? That’s not the only empathetical elements either. Look to the heart pounding Castle On The Hill, a dedication to his friendships of old that got him to his present state. He describes how he’d give nearly anything to relive those days (though as far as alcohol is concerned, this song’s descriptions make for the most explicit in that field). In a slew of hopeless romantic melodies (namely Dive, Perfect, Hearts Don’t Break Around Here, and How Would You Feel?), we see sweet and meaningful ballads dedicated to his present girlfriend, Cherry Seaborn. While they might fall into line when comparing to typical pop love-struck tunes. The nice exception is Sheeran’s statement of feeling true comfort, peace, and protection around her (in Hearts Don’t Break Around Here), which is not a typical confession for males to make.
Not all matters on hand, however, are upstanding. While New Man’s slightly comical and obsessive tale of a jealous ex-lover is mostly understandable and even harmless. It still has the harshest profanity on the album (A-H***, and a possibly implied/muted harsher word still), as well as alludes the girl of Sheeran’s obsession isn’t faithful to any man she happens to be with. And as you probably know, the most problematic track on the album is nonother than the single track itself, Shape of You. Which aside from a brief and sincere desire to make something of the relationship being told, is nothing more than a hook-up song. The song degradingly only discusses desiring someone for their body, that’s it (which is unfortunate, because it is as catchy as I’ll get out). But in order to avoid leaving these on a sour note, the concluding track Supermarket Flowers is probably the most beautiful song on the album. A song dedicated to Sheeran’s late mother, and how the experience and perspective of his life has lead him to cherish the time with her, and yearn to see her once again, now that she’s with God.
Now, as I previously mentioned, the ambition for Sheeran was to invent a diverse, unpredictable, and transfixing album. One where the music and sounds sought to compliment, yet change up the track prior to them. And on the surface, it’s not a bad go neither. While he has done a respectable job with the task at hand, I can’t help feeling it’s not quite as innovative as he’d hoped. That’s not to say ÷ isn’t fun nor enjoyable, but it does feel like a slight step back from X. While such songs as New Man and Shape of You (enjoyable but vulgar) are raucously fun, they also feel slightly familiar when considering grander songs such as Done. or You Need Me, I Don’t Need You, which undoubtedly were their inspiration. And it’s impossible to shake the feeling that the pleasant and cotton-candy type tunes found in Dive and Perfect are his (almost desperately) Thinking Out Loud replacements. Finally, while he pays homage to romantic classics in Dive and How Would You Feel? they tend to feel a bit more copy-cat to the Buble’s and Dion’s of the world, rather than just tipping the hat. So, in short, we have an enjoyable, easy listening, and repeatable pop album on our hands. And that’s not a knock against it in the least. It’s just not the revelation some fans hoping for Ed to start spreading his wings may have been rooting for.
But don’t let that side step discourage you, there are plenty of enjoyable elements to ÷. For starters, Castle On The Hill feels like the innovative and uniquely Ed Sheeran song we were waiting for. It may not be my favorite on the album, but it undoubtedly was a refreshing side to him his fans perhaps never knew they wanted. Happier likewise, while not necessarily revolutionary, is a genuinely beautiful and dreamlike track of lost love that sticks with you (and if you are familiar with my music taste, you’ll know I’m a sucker for such spectacles). And while critics have oddly enough panned it, Hearts Don’t Break Around Here is a beauty in its own right. But I’d say my favorite tracks are found in the intense yet meaningful Eraser. The fun and unapologetically Irish/folk jig Galaway Girl (and the bonus Nancy Mulligan) do nothing more than put an uncontrollable smile on my face, and tap in my toes. The concluding track Supermarket Flowers is the last I’d like to mention. There are few tracks on this album as deeply personal, beautiful, and moving in both music and lyrics.
As I said prior, ÷ seems to be a snapshot of Ed Sheeran and his present fame, difficulties, successes, and just sheer life at this moment. He seems to be at a place of discovery and contentment in his life. He admits he has a’ways to go, but isn’t naïve enough to think his experience hasn’t shaped him thus far. He’s got flaws and temptations like the rest of us (and sometimes revels in them a bit much), but is noticing the need and even perhaps influence God has had in his life along the way. That, in its simplest form, is a rarity for the pop industry. While the album as a whole may feel a bit divided in that it may not be the influential masterpiece it craves to be and contains a handful of flaws along its path, who’s to deny it’s foot stomping fun, tear-jerking emotion, and Sheeran’s perspective of life. A perspective which is full of hope, love, and a desire for maturity. That in a nutshell, makes this simple pop album well worth your undivided attention.