By Ian Teoh, E23 Reporter
Irish singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran pens music that is remarkable in its ability to breathe. You can hear the earthy chugging of his acoustic guitar on his breakout track “The A Team”. Nylon strings echo out into an empty room on “I See Fire”.
The first man to ever play a show at the imposing Wembley Stadium all by himself, with only his guitar and loop pedal, appreciates the importance of space in music and doing it his own way. Sheeran at his best is stringing out intimate confessionals that tug at heartstrings.
Sheeran, however, is not an acoustic monk, shunning modern electronica and the sounds of the 20th century. You might be surprised to hear, as I was, an obtrusive drum track beneath his young wispy vocals when relistening to “Lego House”. His love of hip-hop and funk has always been evident in tracks like “Drunk”, “Sing” and Rap-inspired “The Man”.
Lackluster ballads are the last thing you’d expect on an Ed Sheeran album but “÷” (pronounced “Divide”) has a few. “Dive” and “Save Myself” are the only slow songs that measure up well with his previous work. “New Man” and “Eraser” sparkle and fizzle but cannot match the energy of “Don’t”.
One wonders how this could happen, with Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself’ and Major Lazer’s “Cold Water” both being recent Ed Sheeran-penned hits that show more heart than several tunes on his third major label release. Often the feeling I’m left with is one of unfulfilled catharsis, with many of the songs falling short of his usual genius. I can’t help but feel that there isn’t a single track on “X”, his sophomore effort, that would not make it onto this album.
That being said, “÷” sacrifices consistency for an evolution in music. “Shape of You”, with its e-piano motif, is surprisingly refreshing and brilliant. In the same way, “Supermarket Flowers” similarly echoes his previous work while distinctly standing on its own.
“Galway Girl” and “Nancy Mulligan” pay homage to Sheeran’s Irish roots. The former is rocketing up the charts in Ireland, but may prove to be a little too far off the beaten track for most listeners. “Bibia Be Ye Ye” (meaning All Will Be Well), a collaboration written when Sheeran was in Ghana together with Afrobeats artist Fuse ODG, and the outstanding “Barcelona” represent an exuberance not often heard from our melancholy crooner.
“÷” represents a new well-managed slickness that we’re not used to from the stripped down performer, but I guess it’s no secret that Sheeran isn’t the 20-year-old boy surprised to have sold a million albums anymore. In an interview with “The Guardian”, Ed Sheeran promised that “this album will sell more” than the last. It probably will, however “÷” represents for me an improbable misstep from the man who can do no wrong.