After a year-long hiatus Ed Sheeran has abruptly marked his return to the music scene with his third album, “Divide.” Cue the jokes about how he’s slowly working his way through PEMDAS (“Plus” and “Multiply” being the names of his first two albums). There were high expectations for this one.
Although “Multiply” established Sheeran as a popular artist with hits like, “Thinking Out Loud,” “Photograph” and “Don’t,” it was somewhat of a letdown after his previous groundbreaking debut album. You would think that staying off the radar for a whole year would give an artist enough time to reflect, write and record a great album, and Sheeran did just that.
He released “Shape of You” and “Castle On The Hill” in the beginning of January shortly after changing his entire social media theme from the green design and multiplication symbols to a light blue backdrop with the division sign.
One thing for sure is that Sheeran knows what will succeed on the radio and what will please his original singer-songwriter acoustic fans. “Shape of You” is a groovy upbeat track, while “Castle On The Hill” is a reminiscent sweet song with a powerful chorus. He followed a similar release pattern for his sophomore album by releasing the chart-topper “Sing” first, which was then followed by his less poppy tunes.
Ed Sheeran is well-known for his romantic, sappy relationship songs, but wedding DJs may have to change up their artist selection because the songs on “Divide” extend beyond sentimental love songs.
One of the most lyrically powerful songs is “Supermarket Flowers,” in which Sheeran discusses the death of his grandmother through the perspective of his mother. The song is a beautiful ballad that holds incredibly moving lyrics: “A heart that’s broke is a heart that’s been loved/A life with love is a life that’s been lived.” Even though the song is deeply personal it provokes a poignant relatable feeling if you have ever dealt with the loss of a loved one.
If “Supermarket Flowers” didn’t get the tears flowing, “Save Myself” might do the job. It is another emotionally intimate song and Sheeran discusses the concept of self-care and prioritizing your needs over others when selflessness starts to become detrimental to your mental health: “So before I save someone else, I’ve got to save myself.”
To counteract the heavy-hearted tunes, “Divide” also includes some lively songs that have aspects of different cultures and genres, perhaps influenced by Sheeran’s worldly explorations while on hiatus. Two songs that contain traces of Irish folk music are “Galway Girl” and “Nancy Mulligan.” They could definitely get you pumped up for Saint Patrick’s Day with the Celtic fiddle flow in the backgrounds. Other animated upbeat songs on the album are “Barcelona”and “Bibia Be Ye Ye” (translation: “all will be well”). These songs have Caribbean and Afrobeat dancey vibes.
The opening track “Eraser” describes Sheeran’s difficulties with fame: “I used to think that nothing could be better than touring the world with my songs/I chased the picture-perfect life, I think they painted it wrong.” This narrative isn’t surprising for a guy who got voted GQ’s “worst-dressed” man and constantly makes an effort to separate his personal life and music career. Although the lyrics are interesting, even Sheeran’s greatest fans can admit rap is not his strong suite (no need to worry, Kanye fans) and this song turned out to be a dreary version of “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You.”
Although this album holds new narratives, would it really be an Ed Sheeran album without some heartbreak? In “Happier,” Sheeran discusses the pain of seeing an ex moving on. Then in “New Man,” he bounces back a bit through confidence in the fact that his ex’s new man isn’t all that great, describing the characteristics of a stereotypical frat-boy like character: “Goes to the gym at least six times a week/Wears boat shoes with no socks on his feet.”
“How Would You Feel (Paean)” is a charming, simple love song, featuring a mesmerizing guitar solo by none other than John Mayer.
Maybe all artists should take hiatuses if it means they’ll come back with a rejuvenating and cultivating album. “Divide” holds surprises, love, inspiration and sentiment. We can only hope that one day Ed Sheeran decides to subtract, but for now we’ll stick to division.