Release Date: Mar 3, 2017
Record label: Atlantic
In the four years since Ed Sheeran established himself as Taylor Swift's opening-act-slash-bestie, the British singer-songwriter hasn't just become a star - he's helped make over pop's sound. Blending acoustic sensitive-guy vibes with digital-age craft, Sheeran has knocked out hits for Justin Bieber and One Direction while influencing the strummy likes of Lukas Graham and Shawn Mendes. On ÷, his first album since 2014's X, Sheeran doubles down on the blend of hip-hop bravado and everyday-bloke songwriting that helped him break out at the turn of the decade.
Some numbers about your friend and mine, Ed Sheeran. By the time he signed a record deal at the age of 19, the Suffolk singer had already self-released three albums and six EPs. His debut album, ‘+’, unexpectedly shifted over a million copies in 2011. 'Shape Of You', a lead single from third studio album ‘÷’, was streamed 6,868,642 times on Spotify in a just one week.
Ed Sheeran turned into a global superstar after the release of 2014's x and while fame did his head in a bit -- he took a year off of social media, a hiatus that happened to coincide with the time he worked on his third album -- it's also true that fame suits him. That much is clear from Divide, the album he released to eager anticipation in March 2017. Compared to its two predecessors, Divide -- which, like its predecessors, has its title rendered as a mathematical symbol -- is colorful and lithe, casually hopscotching from style to style without ever drawing attention to its range.
Ed Sheeran starts out his new album on dangerous ground. It opens with "Eraser," one of those "what did I get myself into?" complaints favored by insanely famous pop stars. "I chase the picture perfect life," he sing-raps. "I think they painted it wrong." The twist? Sheeran knows how sick-making stuff like this sounds to anyone who's not a star.
Stuck in his daydream, been this way since eighteen. There isn't much that can be said about Ed Sheeran's music anymore that feels novel. He's a ginger singer-songwriter with an affinity for mixing gorgeous but basic acoustic balladry with awkward, fumbling hip-hop verses. He has a great voice, but it is often squandered on middling, vanilla songwriting that emphasizes billboard success over craft.
Ed Sheeran is a full-fledged world-famous platinum-selling pop star now, and that’s fine, but he’d be the first to tell you: fame and fortune come with their own sets of problems. This is obviously true on a personal level, but it can extend to the music, too. Try this: listen to Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill”, the second track on ÷ (pronounced “Divide”, of course).
I n January, Ed Sheeran was interviewed by Chris Evans, who asked whether his pair of stylistically disparate comeback singles - Shape of You and Castle on the Hill, which arrived simultaneously after a three-year hiatus - were written to appeal to the Radio 1 and Radio 2 demographics, respectively. "I wrote both of them for myself," was Sheeran's first response, before he reconsidered: "It definitely came into the equation. Everyone said [Castle on the Hill] was a Radio 2 single and we need something for Radio 1.
I have a friend called Mark. We started playing football together when we were seven, and since then we've shared many of our lives' primal experiences: first loves, last heartbreaks, new houses, foreign trips, sporting victories, and all the births, marriages and deaths that help frame a life. I think most of us know a Mark, and my Mark is possibly similar to yours.
Ed Sheeran needs you to know that he did not go to university. Instead, he spent his teens slogging around the UK pub circuit, and by the age of 20, he was on his way to becoming Britain's biggest male pop star. Still, he likes to come back to the uni thing. He sings about not having a degree twice on his new album, ÷ , after at least three earlier instances in his catalog.
Ed Sheeran's sentimental streak is matched only by his determination to win on "÷," the British singer's third album of shrewdly conceived love songs in which every last detail feels arranged for maximum impact. Introduced as a sensitive folkie on his hit 2011 debut, "+," Sheeran became a superstar with 2014's more expansive "x." The record sold millions of copies, led to sold-out concerts at Wembley Stadium and spawned a modern wedding standard in "Thinking Out Loud," which won the Grammy Award for song of the year. Here was a guy, it seemed as his profile kept rising, proud to have learned early on that "heart" rhymes with "chart." Yet by the end of 2015 Sheeran's longed-for success was pushing him toward burnout.
No modern mainstream musician represents the friend zone more than Ed Sheeran, who was introduced to the United States as Taylor Swift's grinning, ginger teddy bear of a BFF, a public relationship ripped right from a textbook on tropes. She was a beautiful blonde serial dater of shallow pop stars and obvious bad boys; he was blessed with a poet's heart and a gamer's face. They could never be together because of society, of course, though that didn't mean Ed couldn't always be there for her, a steady presence made for award show selfies and platonic duets.
Imagine you're the biggest and most popular male British pop star in the world. Now imagine that you've achieved that success by doing things your way - no auditions on X Factor or The Voice, no radical reinvention of your signature sound, no collaborations with the ubiquitous Sean sodding Paul. In fact, your USP is now so influential that you're pretty much single-handedly responsible for every middle-class teenage busker now having a loop pedal as well as an acoustic guitar.