Typically, a third album is often categorised as a ‘make it or break it’ sign, yet Ed Sheeran’s long-awaited, Spotify record-breaking, latest album doesn’t need to provide any further evidence to his fame. Speaking to the BBC, Sheeran predicted 2017 as being a high point of his career, with 17 being his lucky number. After teasing and dropping two singles in the early days of the year, with ‘Shape of You’ not having left the number one spot since, it’s very much fair to say Ed Sheeran is back.
Sticking with the archetypal mathematical names, ‘Divide’ begins with a classic Sheeran acoustic guitar melody likely to be reproduced with a loop pedal, a favourite piece of tour equipment of the singer. If this wasn’t quintessentially Sheeran enough, ‘Eraser’ soon launches into hip-hop lyrics as he muses on his developments as an artist. It’s an interestingly named piece from someone who disappeared from social media for the duration of last year in favour of travelling the world, resulting in a sound which mirrors his previous albums and EPs but could disappoint listeners who were expecting something different.
sHEERAN PREDICTED 2017 AS BEING A HIGH POINT OF HIS CAREER, WITH 17 BEING HIS LUCKY NUMBER
The U2-echoing ‘Castle on the Hill’ is up next, the other track released in January ahead of the album’s release which sees Sheeran paying homage to his hometown of Framlingham in Suffolk. It’s certainly a change in tempo from the singer, who performs a classic story-telling ballad whilst reflecting on where he and oldest friends are now; the lyrics are sprinkled with cultural references as he drives home “singing to Tiny Dancer”.
‘Dive’ follows up with its bluesy melodies and snappy guitar notes and is Sheeran asserting his partner to be affectionate only if she truly means it. It’s also the first of three tracks on the album to feature vocals from Jessie Ware and the only song to have a casual guitar solo from Eric Clapton, CBE. Instant favourite ‘Shape of You’, initially penned with Rihanna in mind, reverberates Sia’s ‘Cheap Thrills’ with its percussive opening, and coupled with introductory lyrics ‘the club isn’t the best place to find a lover’ and catchy rhythm, it proves its worth as number one for two months to date.
After worrying he wouldn’t top ‘Thinking Out Loud’, ‘Perfect’ mimics 1950s romantic pieces with its waltzing tone and is certain to be played at countless weddings from its release. It’s easy to tell ‘Perfect’ is simply about “being in love” from the first listen. Heading straight to number one in Ireland upon the album’s release, ‘Galway Girl’ features an Irish tin whistle and help from Antrim folk group Beoga; paired with its lilting notes it conjures up a ballad reflecting Sheeran’s love for the country.
OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder helped to pen subsequent ‘Happier’, a braver song based on the singer learning an ex-girlfriend is already seeing someone else and noticing how much happier she looks, arguably Sheeran’s most stripped back piece on the album yet. The pace is picked up again on ‘New Man’, with its clever quips once more about his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, who ‘owns every single Ministry CD/tribal tattoos and he don’t know what it means’.
It’s easy to predict this album will follow in the footsteps of its predecessors
‘Hearts Don’t Break Around Here’ is another song dedicated to Sheeran’s girlfriend Cherry Seaborn, and could easily have come from his debut album. A simple acoustic melody provides the backdrop for a track littered with various metaphors for Seaborn. ‘What Do I Know?’ is a break from the themes of love and loss, and is a Jack Johnson style piece about Sheeran deciding to speak about controversial topics publicly, even though his dad warned him against it, despite him being ‘just a boy with a one-man show’. Bouncing guitar picking and a repeated humming rhythm result in one of the catchier numbers from the album.
On first listen, ‘How Would You Feel (Paean)’ sounds as if it’s straight from a John Mayer LP, and so it’s no surprise to hear an instantly recognisable guitar solo from Mayer during the penultimate song. With its soft piano and guitar blending together in the background, it’s another ode to Sheeran’s girlfriend, whose middle name is Paean. Teased on Valentine’s Day and released on Sheeran’s birthday, it’s perhaps another competitor with ‘Perfect’ for Divide’s answer to ‘Thinking Out Loud’.
Closing number ‘Supermarket Flowers’ is an emotional tribute to the singer’s late grandmother, a final example at his ability to engage with the listeners. Convinced by his grandfather to include the track on the album, the song sees Sheeran and a piano paying tribute to his grandmother in a metaphor of an angel. Of all the romantic dedications earlier on, its arguably this track which catches the listener most and resonates long after listening. It’s easy to predict this album will follow in the footsteps of its predecessors, and be a big part of the contemporary charts for this year and award nominations to come.