Ed Sheeran, ÷ | Album Review
Ed Sheeran returns with his highly-anticipated third album, ÷. All in all, Sheeran remains consistent, adding new gems to his solid musical collection.
The most highly-anticipated return of 2017, at least early on, belongs to British singer/songwriter, Ed Sheeran. Sheeran has blown up over the years, thanks especially to his excellent sophomore album, X. Releasing two singles in January – “Castle on the Hill” and “Shape of You” – it was clear that ÷ was destined to become a blockbuster. Does the album live up to the hype? It has its flaws and at times is the victim to being formulaic, but all in all, Sheeran delivers.
Sheeran initiates ÷ with “Eraser,” showcasing his rapping skills. Initially, his rhymes are accompanied by acoustic guitar, retaining his acoustic-pop persona. The rhymes are autobiographical, which amplifies the authenticity, particularly considering the fact Sheeran isn’t a rapper. Eventually, the production expands, and he sings brilliantly on the refrain.
“I’m well aware of certain things that will befall a man like me / But with that said give me one more / Another one to take the sting away / Oh, I am happy on my own, so here I’ll stay / Save your lovin’ arms for a rainy day / And I’ll find comfort in my pain eraser.”
“Castle on the Hill”
Standout “Castle on the Hill” embraces more of the singer-songwriter, pop-rock sound. Like “Eraser,” Sheeran superbly constructs a narrative, autobiographical approach, particularly on the verses. The chorus is the selling point, with Sheeran delivering enthusiastic, energetic vocals:
“I’m on my way / Driving at 90 down those country lanes / Singing to ‘Tiny Dancer’ / And I miss the way you make me feel, and it’s real / We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill / Over the castle on the hill / Over the castle on the hill.”
Beyond thoughtfully composed verses and chorus, the bridge is incredibly strong. Ultimately, he nails it.
“Dive” is a departure early on, compared to the opening duo. Sheeran amplifies the soul on this 6/8 slow jam, pouring his heart out. The concept is love:
“So, don’t call me baby / Unless you mean it / Don’t tell me you need me / If you don’t believe it / So let me know the truth / Before I dive right into you.”
Vocally, he sounds clear and invested. He deserves recognition for the grit he showcases, allowing his personality and feelings to shine like a beacon.
“Shape of You”
When “Shape of You” was born, it was destined to be a hit. While the single isn’t the sound normally associated with Sheeran, the change of pace is incredibly successful. “Shape of You” is soundly produced (Steve Mac), with a danceable, tropical tinge. As always, Ed remains consistent vocally, weaving effortlessly through the rhythmically quick melody. All in all, it’s a fun, infectious gem, sure to be among the elites of 2017 when it’s all said and done.
On “Perfect,” Sheeran keeps in step with love, the subject that has dominated the previous two songs.
“Baby I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms / Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favorite song / When you said you looked a mess, I whispered under my breath / But you heard it, darling, you look perfect tonight.”
Like “Dive,” “Perfect” has a soulful, throwback quality. Once more, he remains sincere, exhibiting authentic, genuine emotions, carried by his personality. He doesn’t break new ground, but he doesn’t necessarily need to do so either.
“Galway Girl” arrives timely, kicking up the tempo after the slower “Perfect.” Sheeran’s vocals are quick-paced, infusing some rhythmic, hip-hop swagger. This isn’t nearly as far-fetched as the opener with hip-hop affectations. The Irish-folk influence is a welcome touch – this suits the artist’s sensibilities perfectly.
Follow-up “Happier” once more slackens the pace, keeping the alternation of slow-fast alive. It makes ÷ somewhat predictable in regard to formula but ultimately is effective. As always, Sheeran pulls “Happier” off effectively, even if it isn’t far-fetched from the likes of “Dive” or “Perfect.”
The quick-paced, acoustic-pop driven sound is familiar from the jump on “New Man.” The lyrics are fresh, as Sheeran describes his ex’s new man:
“I heard he spent five hundred pounds on jeans / Goes to the gym at least six times a week / Wears boat shoes with no socks on his feet / And I hear he’s on a new diet and watches what he eats / He’s got his eyebrows plucked and his arsehole bleached.”
Essentially, Sheeran uses the opportunity to suggest his ex misses him and her newbie “don’t wanna know about” him. The melodic lines are incredibly agile, again embracing the hipness of hip-hop.
“Hearts Don’t Break Around Here” once more slows the tempo. The song isn’t completely restrained, but doesn’t quite reach the soaring energy level of “New Man.” Nonetheless, he concocts a thoughtful portrait of L-O-V-E. Expectedly, “What Do I Know?” is quicker. The clarity of the production is a selling point, even if “What Do I Know?” sounds as if it’s missing just a little extra something.
“How Would You Feel (Paean)”
The final two songs from ÷ shine brightly. On “How Would You Feel (Paean),” Sheeran masterfully shares his dedication to his bae. Once more, a knack for authenticity, driven by personality, bodes well in Sheeran’s favor. This romantic ballad should bore after several others preceding it, but ultimately, it’s among the crème de la crème.
Standard edition closer “Supermarket Flowers” is comparable to the moving “Afire Love” from x. The subject of “Afire Love” was Sheeran’s grandfather, while “Supermarket Flowers” turns to his late grandmother.
All in all, Ed Sheeran has assembled another enjoyable and highly respectable album with ÷. Is ÷ the equal to his previous, breakthrough album x? It may not supplant an effort with the likes of “Sing,” “Don’t,” or “Thinking Out Loud,” but it’s not far off base. “Shape of You” and “Castle on the Hill” are exceptional enough to keep it “level pegging” minimally. At times, ÷ is flawed and slightly predictable, but at no point is this album a deal breaker. More often than not, Mr. Sheeran gets it right.
Gems: “Castle on the Hill,” “Dive,” “Shape of You,” “New Man,” “How Would You Feel (Paean)” & “Supermarket Flowers”
Ed Sheeran • ÷ • Atlantic • Release: 3.3.17
Photo Credit: Atlantic