When Ed Sheeran wrapped the final date of his record-breaking Divide Tour in 2019, he thought his career might be over.
“I thought it was that” he told GQ earlier this year. “That was the top of the mountain and, you know, I would never do it again. I thought it was all going to be downhill from here. The end of that tour hit me a lot.”
He settled to married life in Suffolk, began painting and became the proud father of a little girl, Lyra, in the midst of the pandemic.
For months, the singer – one of the best-selling artists in the world – hasn’t even picked up a guitar.
“I was like, ‘Here, this is me, I’m just going to be dad, I’m not playing music anymore,'” he told Sirius XM radio.
And then, an illumination.
“Suddenly I said to myself, ‘It is more important for my daughter to grow up knowing that her parents have a work ethic and that her parents love to work hard and love to create and enjoy their work,'” she said. “And to see him rather than, like, look at your father as technically unemployed.”
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So here we are, with Ed Sheeran’s fourth solo album, called = (Equals). It comes at the busiest time for new albums in years: a week before Abba’s unexpected return, two weeks before Taylor Swift’s updated version of Red, and three weeks before Adele’s “divorce album,” 25.
However, Sheeran has an edge over the competition. The first two singles of = (Bad Habits and Shivers) spent a total of 15 weeks at number one over the summer – proving, if nothing else, that the star had lost none of her skill at writing nimble and memorable hook pop. .
The rest of the album is just as refined, balancing Sheeran’s ruthless commercial instincts with more introspective and emotional moments.
In keeping with the title, the 30-year-old’s lyrical concern is to find balance in his personal life. The first words he sings are: “I have grown up / I am a father now / Everything has changed / But somehow I am still the same. “
Domestic bliss is never far from the surface, and most of the 14 songs are addressed to his wife, Cherry Seaborn, whom he first met at school.
“The greatest thing I’ve achieved / It’s four little words on one knee,“he recalls in First Times, the first of many holding ballads about their relationship.”You said, “Honey, are you kidding?” / And I just said, “Please.“
You get the feeling Seaborn may blush at some of his more expansive declarations of love. “I’ve never kissed a mouth that tastes like you,“declares himself naively about Shivers. Worse, remember”fumbling in cubicles in Tokyo” And “making love in heaven” on TMI’s mid-tempo anthem, Collide.
He hits the bull’s-eye best in The Joker And The Queen, an absolutely gorgeous cri d’amour, in which Sheeran sings in subdued wonder about Seaborn’s decision to bump into him when he could have chosen from “a thousand kings”.
Brushed with layers of gauze thread, it’s set to become a wedding fixture along the lines of the star’s previous hits, Thinking Out Loud and Perfect.
Elsewhere, he apologizes to his family for the inevitable months he will spend on tour (Leave Your Life) and plans a candlelit vacation (Love In Slow Motion).
However, he unravels in Sandman, a suffocating and insipid lullaby for his daughter, all wrapped in mushy carillon clichés.
But, ultimately, that’s what makes Ed Sheeran Ed Sheeran. The ingenuity of the lyrics can’t undermine his credibility, because he never claimed to be cool in the first place.
This allows him to get away with sugary statements of eternal love that will be appreciated by fans for the simplicity of the universal emotions they express.
All of which makes Sheeran impervious to cranky music critics (including his daughter). So while I I could to mention the lack of musical innovation of this album, or the apolitical and risk-averse lyrics, what’s the point?
After all, = is better, more coherent and less irritating than Sheeran’s last proper album, ÷ 2017.
The no-nonsense melodies and burnished rhythms exude confidence, and Sheeran expertly balances the equation between his pop instinct and a new, more mature style.
It’s good he didn’t give up after all.
What is the meaning of the title?
All of Ed’s solo albums have been named after math symbols, starting with 2011’s + (Plus).
That album “added” new songs to the classics of his early EPs and independent releases, including his breakthrough hit, You Need Me, I Don’t Need You.
The x of 2014 “was called multiplying because it made everything that was bigger”, Sheeran told Entertainment Weekly in 2015. “From clubs to songs, from radio shows to sales.”
The next in the sequence was 2017 ÷ (Divide) which saw the star split his music into multiple genres, from the pop euphoria of Shape Of You to the more introspective Castle On The Hill. The album also divided critics, with Galway Girl’s faux Irish cadence arousing particular contempt.
Alan Perrot of Stuff magazine was particularly ferocious, calling the song “cultural theft” which “appropriated an entire Irish folk tradition” while indulging in “a lot of Irish stereotypes that stop a ‘to be sure’ at short of ‘diddly-dee potatoes’. “
Sheeran got the last laugh, of course. Galway Girl went platinum in 13 countries and ÷ became the best-selling album of 2017.
Logic dictated that the fourth album in the sequence was called – (subtract) and Sheeran had previously suggested it would be a more essential release. “My idea to subtract was to have nothing on it, just be an acoustic record,” he told EW in that same interview.
Instead, he went for = (Equals), an album that balances his pop instincts with a more mature sound, while talking about harmony in his home life since becoming a father.
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Sheeran: The awards shows are filled with resentment
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