One of the most hotly anticipated albums of the year, Ed Sheeran’s ÷ is destined to spend weeks if not months at the top of the charts, but that’s not necessarily because it’s worth its salt.
The strongest songs on this record have already been released. ‘Castle on the Hill’ and ‘Shape of You’ as I wrote in an earlier article, are pitched at a nice balance between easy listening and individual in their sound. The rest of the album, however, is a mixed bag. The opener, ‘Eraser’ has a fairly strong chorus but it is annoyingly over-produced. The live extended version Sheeran performed of this track for SBTV last week had all the artist’s characteristic rawness that this streamlined version sadly lacks.
This is, unfortunately, a recurring theme across the entire record. ÷ is essentially a mass of the songs that worked on x, rehashed and reworked to appeal to a mass market. ‘Dive’ is probably the best vocal performance on the album, but the song is musically and lyrically lacking. Like ‘Perfect’, it is an over-saccharine, insincere appeal to easy listening. The wit and sweet honesty of earlier tracks such as ‘Thinking out Loud’ and ‘Gimme Love’ are nowhere in these later versions, though I’m sure they’ll still soundtrack proposals and first dances because that’s exactly what they were written for.
The whole album feels quite calculated. The folky ‘Galway Girl’ is at least unashamed about wanting to appeal to a certain kind of fan. The catchy lyrics and joyous fiddle in this track are twee but at least they don’t hide behind the pretence of emotional sincerity.
‘Happier’, for me, is the only track to successfully recreate the original emotional vulnerability that made Sheeran famous. This is probably because it, mercifully, escapes the smoothing hand of production that plagues the other downbeat tracks.
Beyond this, ‘Barcelona’ is inoffensive, ‘What Do I Know’ catchy but unconvincingly moralistic and ‘Nancy Mulligan’ just a bit pants. The record has no apparent structure and its 16 song marathon length becomes, frankly, tiresome. As I said earlier, this record would do well regardless, but Sheeran seems to be so keen to pander to his millions of adoring fans he starts to sacrifice artistic integrity. Some of these songs are memorable, and have grown on me the more I’ve listened, but you’ll find nothing daring here.
Of course, this is not an album made for critics, but for fans. As someone who loosely falls into both these categories, however, I remain distinctly unimpressed. This isn’t a bad album, it’s just not a particularly good one.