Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran rapidly rose to fame with the release of his debut album “+,” pronounced “Plus,” in 2011, despite having produced countless extended plays beforehand. Since the release of “+,” the British pop sensation has consistently remained high on the charts with an ever-growing fan base and impressive list of musical accolades. Sheeran’s newest album “÷,” pronounced “Divide,” is no exception to his track record of hit releases. In the album, Sheeran experiments with edgy and inventive sounds not present in his previous albums. Although these changes have resulted in mixed reviews for the album, Sheeran’s bold, unique and stylistic choices should be acknowledged. Although there are still classic Sheeran songs on the album, “÷” is Sheeran’s most fearless effort.
Categorizing Sheeran’s music as a whole is often difficult, as he is known for producing music that pulls inspiration from a variety of genres. In his earlier albums, the singer-songwriter relied solely on his guitar and voice with the occasional use of percussion. Part of his identity as an artist is his ability to perform solo with just a guitar and foot loop pedal. However, in his 2014 album “x,” pronounced “Multiply,” Sheeran began experimenting with a variety of instruments to create new sounds, imaginatively mixing his acoustic style with hip-hop and soul.
The album “÷” opens with the song “Eraser,” featuring Sheeran’s popular slow rapping style and reminiscent of “The Man,” a track on “x.” The sound is mainly acoustic with some secondary background instruments. Although this is not the standout song on the album, it presents poignant insights into Sheeran’s problems with fame and the music industry. His mention of his “pain eraser” suggests his use of substances to cope with “the root of all evil” — fame.
“Eraser” is followed by one of the singles from the album, “Castle on the Hill,” a song centered on Sheeran’s adolescence in Suffolk, England. Tinged with nostalgia, “Castle on the Hill” is most notable for its lyricism that accurately captures the feelings associated with adolescence. He integrates specific aspects of his personal life, such as names and specific incidents, transforming them into universal symbols. Ultimately, he succeeds in making his music a platform for storytelling rather than simply a vehicle for pop music.
The following song, “Dive,” moves away from Sheeran’s classic sound by introducing R&B and soul to his collection of genres. Other songs similarly break from Sheeran’s traditional sound, including “Barcelona” and “Bibia Be Ye Ye.” Both songs feature foreign languages, Spanish and the African dialect Twi, respectively. “Barcelona,” with its feel-good upbeat tempo and background whistling, is an enjoyable song, but does not stand out lyrically. “Bibia Be Ye Ye,” which means “all will be well” in Twi, is especially unique, containing a cheerful beat and seamlessly integrating the Twi language.
“Shape of You” is the most notably popular song on the album, which comes as no surprise. Initially written for Little Mix and then Rihanna, “Shape of You” was not written with Sheeran’s identity in mind, which is apparent in the tropical house beat. While not particularly poetic, the beat of the song is infectious. The song, which was reworked greatly by Sheeran after he decided to perform it, still resembles Sheeran’s previous work, like “Drunk” from “+.”
The next song, “Perfect,” is the first song Sheeran wrote for the album and presents more of Sheeran’s trademark sound; however, it is not the most innovative or expressive. Sheeran has acknowledged that all the positive love songs on the album were written about his current girlfriend. “Perfect” is one of the most classic love songs on the album, rivaled only by “Hearts Don’t Break Round Here,” by far the sweetest song featured on “÷.”
“Supermarket Flowers” is simply the most melancholy and heartbreaking song on the album, based on the singer’s reaction to the death of his grandmother. Sheeran’s emotion is apparent in his voice, which he referenced in an interview with MTV about “÷.” “That’s my first reaction for anything that happens to me. Good or bad. Pick up a guitar,” Sheeran said.
Sheeran closes out the album with “Save Myself,” ending on a sentimental note. The lyrics and melody create a chilling yet beautiful sense of hope, especially when Sheeran sings “Cause I’m not like my mom / Cause she just smiles and I’m complaining in a song / But it helps / So before I save someone else, I’ve got to save myself.” The song is intensely emotional, emphasized by Sheeran’s voice cracking and accompanied by a stunning musical setting of strings and piano.
The album “÷” is Sheeran’s most personal work to date. Although the tracks receiving the most mainstream attention are standouts, Sheeran’s latest album has its hidden gems in the form of songs brimming with both romance and authenticity. His music is not just emotionally charged, but also delves into new stylistic territory with the incorporation of rhythm and blues and soul sounds, collaborations and foreign influences. Sheeran is maturing by taking risks on “÷,” and they are certainly paying off.
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