Known for his fiery red hair, smooth English accent, and always clutching an acoustic guitar, Ed Sheeran has become one of the most beloved artists of our generation. = marks the fifth studio album from Sheeran succeeding the nationwide success of +, x, ÷, and most recently, No. 6 Collaborations Project—which featured the likes of Justin Bieber, Travis Scott, and YEBBA to name a few. There isn’t a musical stone Sheeran leaves unturned. In addition to releasing smash-hits, he’s also known for his exceptional songwriting skills. He’s written songs for countless fellow artists such as, “Little Things” by One Direction, “Love Yourself” by Bieber, and “Eastside” by Benny Blanco, Halsey, and Khalid, among many others. Sheeran took a 4-year hiatus from his mathematical symbol album series, but the Ginger Jesus is back in =, and showcasing a much more grown version of himself.
Kicking bad habits
The first single released from = was “Bad Habits.” Sheeran reflects on his party past and the habits he developed, like drinking constantly, and how that affected him. It is ironic that this song is formatted into an EDM-esque, dance bop with the undertone of its lyrics. The contrast though, works in favor of the song. It’s enjoyable and inclines the listener to want to boogie to this in a club. “Overpass Graffiti” gives off 80s pop vibes. It’s about a breakup and still holding onto the memory of that. Sheeran compares those memories to graffiti on an overpass, because they don't fade that easily. This message makes it relatable for some of Sheeran’s listeners who have had a similar experience. It is fast-paced and akin to “Bad Habits"; with its beat contrasting the lyrical composition of the song.
The second single released was “Shivers.” This song is fun—plain and simple. It is an upbeat love song about Sheeran experiencing a love so passionate and strong that it quite literally takes hold of him and gives him “shivers.” It’s your typical, catchy, bubblegum pop song that will play 40 times over on the radio, until you are singing it nonstop wherever you are. This guarantees that it’s enjoyable, which it is, but it isn’t anything groundbreaking. It is exactly what you would expect from your everyday pop love song.
Overall, “Stop the Rain” is the most notable song on =. Sheeran’s powerful vocals and the driving beat are the perfect pair—making this song the frontrunner. One minute in, he lets the rasp in his voice slip revealing gold; Sheeran’s creamy voice turned raspy absolutely works wonders. The zeal and sheer intensity in his tone become apparent through this small technical vocal addition, as well as the remarkable run he does in the last 10 seconds.
Pulling inspiration from real life
“Tides” is a fitting initial song to lead = with. Analogous to “Eraser” on ÷, Sheeran is updating his fans on what’s been going on in his life and what his inner thoughts have been lately. The only difference is on “Eraser” he raps this life update, but on “Tides” he sings it, letting his voice and acoustic guitar shine through. Sheeran details the birth of his daughter, Lyra, and his newfound fatherhood. The first verse, pre-chorus, and chorus are all very hectic with Sheeran singing about his “go go go” musician lifestyle while the guitar is heavily strummed in the background, thus making the song feel rushed. In contrast, the chorus slows down immensely, mirroring the emotions he was feeling when Lyra was born. Sheeran intimately sings about how time stopped, things calmed down, and being a father became the focal point of his life. Showing that sudden shift musically was executed effectively.
“First Times” is a classic Ed Sheeran style ballad. Soft, breathy vocals, slow acoustic guitar, and honest lyrics are at the forefront of this song. Sheeran sings about experiencing all of the “first times” in his adult life, but noting how there are still so many more to go.
“Leave Your Life” is an endearing and touching love letter to Lyra. Sheeran sings, “Oh, I, I'm never gonna leave your life/ Even at the times I'm miles away, you are always on my mind/ Forever and now, I will be by your side/ I know it can change from day to day, but this love'll keep alight/ I'm never gonna leave your life.” In congruent fashion, “Collide” is dedicated to his wife, Cherry Seaborn. He rattles off a list of things they have done together that he holds dear to his heart. “Love in Slow Motion,” is a sweet song, but it is not memorable in the slightest. At least the lyrics were original in “Leave Your Life” and “Collide,” whereas in “Love in Slow Motion,” they were generic and overused.
Storytelling at its finest
In an interview with Apple Music, Sheeran says “Visiting Hours” is in memory of his friend who passed away soon after he received an idea for the song. Sheeran ended up singing this song at his friend's memorial and said that he “found it quite upsetting to write and definitely more upsetting to sing.” It has the best lyric in the entire album with Sheeran singing in the first verse, “I wish that Heaven had visiting hours.” It’s heartbreakingly emotional and the listener can hear the pain in Sheeran’s voice. “Sandman” carries a child-like energy and serves as a lullaby. It’s innocent and pure. Sheeran’s voice is silk and the melody is easy on the ears. Sheeran also told Apple Music that he wrote this track before Lyra was born, saying that she was going to need a lullaby to fall asleep to. Sheeran has found a niche with this light-hearted, storytelling structure which he should pursue further in future projects.
Sheeran ends = with the track, “Be Here Now.” This song sounds like it would be at the end of a coming of age movie when the protagonist’s arc finally reaches a close and the ending credits begin to roll in. It’s the total opposite of the opening track, “Tides.” “Be Here Now” is soothing and serene, which is the optimal sound to close out the album.
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