I have had a very hit and miss relationship with Ed Sheeran up until now. Like most others, I was wowed with the release of The A Team and delighted at the sight of ginger bromancing with Ron Weasley. As I have mentioned before, I was enraptured with 90% of Small Bump before being crushed beneath Ed's songwriting boot. I was less grabbed by second album x. Photograph and Thinking Out Loud aside, I felt that a lot of the raw energy that I'd enjoyed in + had been sacrificed in favour of a sound that felt more polished and industry-friendly. More recently, I enjoyed his turn in my enforced watching of the latest Bridget Jones film and his unfortunate role in the knighting of Sir James Blunt. Into 2017 and Sheeran continues his jaunt through primary school maths with ÷, his third studio album and one that will have people everywhere reaching for the 'special characters' function of their PCs.
Lead single Castle On The Hill is a nostalgic tour de force. It is a soaring summation of home town pride – however you move on and whatever glorious things you yearn for or achieve, there is always something that pulls you back to the place you grew up. It could be said that the memories are a little clichéd but clichés are there for a reason – we can forget fourteen years of Geography lessons but always remember the songs that we listened to in our mates' cars. It genuinely is the best song I've heard this year so far. The use of Irish influences and instrumentation in Galway Girl is masterful. It has a hint of Titanic steerage added to a dash of B*Witched to make a solid, rousing knees-up anthem. New Man is a magnificent bubbling bucket of bile as it picks apart the type of men we make matey pleasantries with to their face before retiring to the corner to wallow in secret loathing. Supermarket Flowers is a beautifully written, heart-wrenching tribute and a perfect note on which to end the record.
I do, unfortunately have the same issue with this album as the last – there is a significant amount of appeasing going on. “The record company needs singles, Ed, they have a lot of round holes so you can't only give us square pegs”. Shape Of You is mindless. I had a hard time believing that Bruno Mars on 24K Magic spent all his time in the club picking up women. You're dreaming if you want me to buy into Ed Sheeran as a silver-tongued lothario. Perfect thinks it is Thinking Out Loud but it isn't. It will, however, undoubtedly be the soundtrack to school disco finales for months to come. In stark contrast to New Man, Happier is the album's token reflective break-up song. It is bland, empty and, frankly, the kind of garbage I would have expected from Blue in the nineties. It is unfathomable to me that you can be responsible for a musical talent such as Ed Sheeran's and allow greed to stifle his creativity in this way. It is the equivalent of having an all-expenses paid table at a Michelin star restaurant and then stopping for McDonalds on the way.
I like Ed Sheeran when he is allowed to be Ed Sheeran. Meek, heartfelt, unassuming. He is a man with whom you could have a few drinks then listen as he gets his guitar out and regales you with his ditties. Some of the tracks on ÷ have this energy – a playful whimsy combined with undoubted musical virtuosity that ensures Sheeran will go down as one of the best songwriters of the last ten years. What I don't like is his artificial alter ego, let's call him 'Ed, He Earns' (aren't anagrams fun?). 'Ed, He Earns' is a product of spreadsheets, think tanks and number crunchers sitting in offices comparing stools to use whilst milking their cash cow. Opening track Eraser attempts to detail Ed's journey into the music industry and how intent he is on not living the stereotypical life of a popstar and retaining some element of credibility as a hard-working journeyman musician. Taken from most other popstars, I would think this to be very self-indulgent. From Sheeran though, with the spectre of 'Ed, He Earns' looming in the background, it sounds more like a cry for help. Let us hope that one day Ed Sheeran might escape the evil clutches of 'Ed, He Earns' and return to making albums that have the heart and soul of + rather than records that have one eye on the balance sheet like this one.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Week
“I'm on my way//Driving at 90 down those country lanes//Singing to 'Tiny Dancer'”
Castle On The Hill
Despite the looming shadows
Still has some sparkle
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