If first dance songs at weddings counted more in streaming numbers, Ed Sheeran – the British carrot troubadour behind soft-rock fanatics like “Thinking Out Loud” and “Perfect” – would have had a monopoly on the top. charts for most of the last decade.
Not that he needs a lot of help in that department: the ubiquitous Sheeran was Spotify’s second-most-circulated artist of the 2010s (behind only Drake), and in 2017 – the year he released the blockbuster “÷” – he was the world’s best-selling musician. As a songwriter, Sheeran is somewhat of a mathematician of modern pop, gifted with an ability to reduce seemingly disparate genres (adult-contemporary pop, British hip-hop, Gaelic folk) to their smallest denominators. common.
Since his debut in 2011, “+”, he proudly presents himself as a hopeless romantic. “See, I could do without a tan on my left hand, where my fourth finger meets my knuckle,” then 21-year-old Sheeran sang over the sparse and unabashedly sentimental ballad “Wake Me Up”. In a sense, his fourth solo studio album, “=”, pronounced “equal” (one wonders what will happen when he runs out of arithmetic signs soon), has the potential to be the most complete achievement. of Ed Sheeran’s ethics to this day – the first since his marriage in December 2018 to childhood friend Cherry Seaborn. Honeymoon Mode: Get Involved.
“I grew up, I’m a dad now, everything has changed but I’m still the same one way or another,” Sheeran sings during the opening, “Tides,” in a blatant display of saying instead than to show. Musically, however, “Tides” is one of the album’s most effective songs, a frenzied light rocker arranged around a neat formal trick. After verses that run through a list of Sheeran’s fears and neuroses, the track suddenly seems to hang in midair during the chorus, long enough for Sheeran to reveal to those close to him: always will be. “(Sheeran recycles the effect later. in the album, on “Love in Slow Motion.”)
More than any of his previous LPs, “=” finds Sheeran harnessing the smooth, synthesized sounds of ’80s pop. As he once again works with Snow Patrol writer and producer Johnny McDaid , he adds a new collaborator on more than half of the tracks: Fred again .., a British dance-music artist. But the retro aesthetic is mainly due to an album which is only one and a half years old, ” The Weeknd’s hit After Hours. ”Her figure has recently cast a shadow over fellow male pop stars (Justin Bieber, Kid Laroi), though she is more apparent on Sheeran’s current hit,“ Bad Habits, ” a pulsating, strobe lament in the tradition of a Weeknd song: “It started under neon lights, then it all got dark,” Sheeran sings, recounting another empty party night and teary eyes.
Where Weeknd’s music often revel in decadence and nihilism, Sheeran’s performances of wild nights are often accompanied by a potent dose of tomorrow’s guilt and a possible possibility of redemption – usually a sort of quasi salvation. -religious who can be reached by the love of a good woman. As he says on “The Joker and the Queen,” a piano song about “=” that stretches a poker metaphor extremely far, “When I lie down, you see the best in me.”
“=” is Sheeran’s cutest and sweetest album, which is a bit of a shame. Each of his previous records featured at least one song that complicated his image as an open-hearted good boy, whether it was the music industry’s surprisingly poisonous send-off “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” or “New Man. “, The sassy kiss from her previous solo album to both a former flame and her next boyfriend. The soulful grain that sometimes adds texture to her soft vocals is also rarely heard on this record. The motor conflict of” = “wanders or rarely goes further than a familiar, repeatedly repeated mantra: life comes to you quickly, but it slows down to the beat of a wedding waltz when you’re in love.
An Ed Sheeran album wouldn’t be complete without a cutesy tearful, and here it’s “Visiting Hours”, as in, he wishes heaven had them. Sheeran follows this indulgent crybaby with a literal lullaby, singing him, Jack Johnson-esque “Sandman”. He’s grown up, he’s a father now, in case you forgot him.
At least the best song on the album is also the one that seems destined to be the next one you’re gonna hear it until you’re fed up: “Overpass Graffiti”, a moody synth. a streaky ’80s throwback that sounds like a more melancholy update to Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks”. Here, Sheeran proves that even as a married man, he’s still able to tap into old grief: “There are times I can smell your ghost, just when I almost let you go,” sings- he, his voice convincingly weighted with longing.
Earlier, in this wave of insecurity that forms the worms of “Tides”, Sheeran admits that in the past he has been “too busy trying to chase the top and raise the numbers.” This confession might suggest he’s ready to put algorithmics in the past, but it turns out to be an empty promise. Ultimately, “=” does not add or subtract from the faithful formula for success that he crafted a long time ago. It’s the smooth sound of stasis.