The typical nice-guys-finish-last music that Ed Sheeran puts out usually makes me want to roll my eyes so hard that the sheer g-forces will remove my head from my body and send it spinning into the cold, unfeeling universe. That is to say, he’s a bit of a whiner overall. This poor-me, rich, white, Ron-Weasley-lookin’-motherfucker over here often plays the songs that my 7th grade Creative Writing class would call trite and a little sanctimonious.
Tl;dr- Calm the fuck down, Sheeran.
Which is why, it almost pains me to admit that I find myself constantly listening to his new album “Divide” in my daily life. While Im a long way from joining the -utterly insane- fandom on his tumblr sites, I will always admit when I’ve been wrong about a musician. Even if its only the one time.
Buckle up, buttercup. This is a long one.
One of the most impressive things about this album is, while it doesn’t outwardly appear to be a concept album, there is an extremely clear and well thought out narrative among the songs. Every four tracks or so seem to tell a clear story from several different angles, which shows that he -or his producer- put a lot of extra work that wasn’t needed but adds that little extra. Kinda like when your barista makes a leaf in your coffee. As a tribute to that fact, Im gonna put a little more effort into this review and give my thoughts about the stories.
Tracks 1-4: Starting with the song “Eraser” and ending with “Shape of You”, Sheeran starts to carve out the story of someone who is starting to get really tired of his own hype and the fame that surrounds being a multimillionaire. What is most impressive in this run is how he bookends really obvious lyrics and rhymes with incredibly deep themes, almost as if he’s hiding his true point behind the songs.
This run is also, by far, the most directly “pop rock” of the bunch. Utilizing the song writing skills of – Distant Stations Review alumni- Julia Michaels on “Dive” and having some hip-hop leanings in songs like “Shape of You” and the aforementioned “Eraser”. The song “Castle on the Hill” initially didn’t fit my theory of this album until I gave it another listen and realized that the song structure clearly parallels the kind of songs that The Chainsmokers write by referencing your parents favorite songs.
Tracks 5-8: This run seems to be a mini story about a specific girl that Sheeran knows, I mean she straight up mentions “she played a fiddle in an Irish band/ but she fell in love with an English man” in “Galway Girl”, effectively doubling down from the saccharinely sweet song “Perfect” just before it.
EDIT: I just learned that “Galaway Girl” is written by Steve Earle and Sharon Shannon and appeared on the album “Transcendental Blues”. The original is significantly better, but I do have to give props for Sheeran adding it.
The turn comes with “Happier” and “New Man” telling the story of how this amazing girl who seemed just a little too great for him, ends up being too great for him. While I really liked “Happier” because it sounded fairly human and vulnerable, “New Man” is sort of makes him sound like someone who uses the phrase Friend-Zoned un-ironically. Overall its a reminder of what I normally hate about Sheeran’s music which is unfortunate. YOU WERE DOING SO GODDAMN WELL!
Track 9-12: The Final run of tracks seems to be the most autobiographical of the songs and have a heaping spoonful of the feels as a result. Ranging from songs about standing up for people to the death of his mother, these tracks might be the best reason to give this album a listen.
“Hearts Don’t Break Around Here” and “How Would You Feel” are super sappy and are likely to end up on a lot of people’s Guilty Pleasures lists this year. While ultimately forgettable, the stronger lyrical presence from the beginning album comes back and, as a result, you can almost forgive it. Almost.
The power comes in the songs “What Do I Know?” and “Supermarket Flowers” for sure, these songs are much stronger both musically and lyrically, the latter being a complete heartbreaker. If you’ve ever faced the death of a family member, this song might take you a few tries to get through because of the sense of place. Sheeran is fairly talented at painting a very descriptive picture and when he turns that skill into discussing the minutiae of a hospital room it can be pretty intense.
The Deluxe Tracks 13-16: Listen to “Save Myself” and “Nancy Mulligan”. The former is incredibly well written and is by far the most honest I’ve ever heard this guy be; the latter is just a really fun song about what sounds like his Grandparents (Possibly parents? Thoughts?) meeting and it has a lot of pretty great allusions to English history and some of the internal struggles of the UK in general.
“Barcelona” and “Bibia Be Ye Ye” are inoffensive and worth a once through, but they don’t hold a candle to those two last tracks… seriously. Go listen. Now.
The Verdict: With the exception of a few stumbles Ed Sheeran put out a pretty solid album overall. Most of the tracks aren’t ground-breaking and wont alter the course of music, but it might actually turn some people who originally couldn’t care less about this guy into fans.
If nothing else, make them give him a chance.
Touche’, Weasley. Touche’.
The Score: 7/10