Ed Sheeran “÷” Review

(Photo Credit: www.chiefs.com)

Ed Sheeran’s third mixes influences well, but is frustratingly nostalgic.

One look at Ed Sheeran and you probably wouldn’t guess he’s one of the biggest performers in the world. Only his tattoos might give it away. When not performing, he looks like an incredibly awkward high school student who’s about to ask you to prom. But when you see him onstage, as he was at the Grammy’s last Sunday, it all washes away, and he suddenly becomes a totally in-control, commanding performer. This disconnect has always run through his music, and it’s both his biggest strength and his weirdest weakness.

The songs on this, his third album, sound awfully like songs on his previously albums – simple but varied. None of the songs sound particularly compelling on their own; it’s the combination of them that makes each fight to sound unique. There’s traditional ballads, like “Happier,” and “Hearts Don’t Break Around You.” There’s the opener “Eraser,” which mixes a kooky acoustic rhythm with some borderline-spoken-word (think Scroobius Pip).”How Would You Feel (Paean)” falls deep in ballad territory but is saved by a surprising, bluesy guitar solo. “Castle on the Hill” sounds a little too much like a late-One Direction cut. And there’s “Galway Girl,” which (gleefully) mixes in Irish rhythms (which somehow took 9 credited writers). The result is a largely pleasant, if inoffensively forgettable set of songs.

Lyrically, the album really feels like it has to check every box. We get “running into your ex” on “Happier,” “telling someone you love them” on “How Would You Feel (Paean),” “meeting a girl in a strange circumstance” in “Galway Girl,” the gross sexiness of “Shape Of You,” and so on, and so on. “New Man” at least makes references to Instagram and ‘a bleached asshole’ within the opening 35 seconds or so. What doesn’t help is that Sheeran doesn’t find his footing early on. The first two tracks, “Eraser” and “Castle on the Hill,” are both very nostalgic and personal, which immediately blocks the listener out. The former’s lyrics are admittedly interesting – reflective of how far he’s come in a few short years – but it’s presented in a ‘do you understand?’ way that is tough to empathize with. These two tracks could have been shuffled into the album more so listeners aren’t left out in the cold immediately (and then get hit with tons of relationship songs in a row).

Ed Sheeran’s music seems pretty self-sufficient – he’s there to please his fans, and isn’t too worried about making new ones. You’re either going to like his genre-filtering, or you’re going to find him dull. This album isn’t likely to change your opinion to the other way, regardless what side you’re on. “÷” is at the end of the day a decent and easily listenable set of tunes – some good ballads, some grooves, some downtime. It’s not particularly memorable, but if it’s the kind of thing you’re into, then have away at it, because there’s probably a lot to gleam from it.

Grade: B-

-By Andrew McNally

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