÷ is vintage Sheeran, but isn’t all that the charts make it out to be, writes William Bain
Released 3 March – via Atlantic
From the moment Ed Sheeran issued two new singles, ‘Castle on the Hill’ and ‘Shape of You’, on the 6th of January, the countdown was officially on for what is highly likely to be commercially the biggest British album of the year. As Sheeran’s third effort ÷ has been unveiled, the records have been tumbling.
÷ is the fastest-selling album ever by a male solo artist. At the time of writing, the Yorkshire-born singer-songwriter holds 16 of the top 20 spots in the UK Single Charts. The entire top 5 is made up of songs from ÷ — the first time any artist has achieved this. So, is ÷ the innovative, earth-shattering album that the album sales and overall hype suggest?
Not so much. Album opener ‘Eraser’ sounds awkwardly similar to late 90s pop as the 26-year-old inserts the topics of his childhood, youth, and later fame within his lyrics. The origins of the man are again a central theme to ÷’s next track ‘Castle on the Hill’, as Sheeran reminisces about his days “getting drunk with friends”, “smoking hand rolled cigarettes” and growing up in the Suffolk town of Framlingham.
Clearly Sheeran attempts to present himself as an everyday, typical bloke. “I’m just a boy with a one-man show, no university”, he sings on ‘What Do I Know?’, that starts to make the ‘Nice Guy’ image tiresome. Furthermore, he almost undoes his own self-made image. On ‘New Man’, Sheeran makes snide comments regarding his ex’s new boyfriend’s purse and bleached behind. It’s hardly a victory for you, Ed.
Yet, ÷ does present an artist aiming to fulfil his creative potential. While admirable, this ambition suitably divides the album into a mixture of successes and failures. Throughout the album, Sheeran demonstrates elements of rap, hip-hop, acoustic and, perhaps most notably, folk. ‘Galway Girl’ holds a particularly strong Irish-folk influence and is a song Sheeran claims in an interview with The Guardian that he had to push his label to include on ÷. He has boundless confidence, undoubtedly. However, sometimes this is the source of ÷’s mixed results.
Not that Sheeran will care what any critic has to say. Ed Sheeran is your average guy living the dream, selling out multiple nights at Wembley Stadium and his albums and topping charts around the globe. Singles such as ‘Shape of You’ has become the adopted Radio 1 anthem of recent times, and ‘Perfect’ and album closer ‘Supermarket Flowers’ have the dramatic and touching Ed Sheeran-ballad touch that ensure they will be the soundtrack to thousands of new romances this year.
÷ is vintage Sheeran; ambitious and occasionally adventurous but also lacking in sentiment and an aggressively mixed bag. The singles will continue to break records, the album tracks will be simultaneously adopted and loved by the many fans of Sheeran and ÷ itself will go on to sell millions. As he mentions in his Guardian interview, Ed Sheeran claims he ins’t bothered about critical success: “I’m at a point where, even if I get a one-star review for every album I release for the rest of my life, I’ll still be able to play music.”
All in all, job done.