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Friday, April 12, 2024

‘÷’ unites Ed Sheeran fans, old and new

After his year-long hiatus, Ed Sheeran has finally dropped his much anticipated third album, ÷. As a devoted fan, the thought of a third album gives me butterflies. I had seen Sheeran perform in a tiny venue with just a few hundred listeners in Chicago back in 2014, awestruck at his one-man performance, soulful vocals and genuine character that easily touched everyone in the room’s hearts and minds. For most, a change in direction in sound and style on new albums is often unsettling to fans, but many changes in Sheeran’s tracks left me pleasantly surprised.

In the past year, Sheeran has committed himself to an off-the-grid lifestyle in which he devoted his time to traveling back to cities he previous toured in attempt to truly explore their various cultures, catch up on much needed time-off and find inspiration for what is now ÷. “Galway Girl” and “Nancy Mulligan,” a track telling the love story between Sheeran’s Irish grandparents, combine Irish instrumentals and folk tunes with Sheeran’s usual mix of pop and rap, creating a refreshing new emulsion in ÷. Meanwhile, the track “Barcelona” quite literally discusses the carefree quality the city possesses, instantly jetting you off to the beach town through his tropical melodies with notes from the flute, references to sangria and dancing and the influx of Spanish lyrics.

Sheeran additionally trades in his usual guitar riffs and drum beats for soft and sentimental piano chords in his final track, “Save Myself.”

Aside from the cultural influences incorporated on ÷, croons of his semi-new relationship with childhood friend and now girlfriend, Cherry Seaborn, intertwine romance and love, leaving room on the album for a classic Sheeran serenade. On “Perfect” Sheeran sings, “Well, I found a girl / beautiful and sweet / Oh, I never knew you were the someone waiting for me / ‘cause we were just kids when we fell in love / not knowing what it was.”

Other themes on ÷ include grief. “Supermarket Flowers” is a tribute to Sheeran’s deceased grandmother. Other tracks like “Dive” show vulnerability, while “Happier” and “New Man” contemplate moving on from old relationships.

The notion of unity and love amidst shaky times throughout the world is a theme. In “What do I know?” Sheeran regards economic troubles and “people marching in the streets.” Although he mentions his father advising not to talk of religion or politics, Sheeran speaks to his power as an artist and musician – “God gave [him] a stage, a guitar and song.” Sheeran expresses that “we could change this world with a piano / add a bass, some guitar, grab a beat” and that “love could change the world in a moment / but what do I know?” The idea of unifying together through love for one another is not a revolutionary idea, but perhaps it is just a reminder many of us need to hear considering recent worldly events. Despite its mellow and particularly light, upbeat tune, lyrics like “you know we are made up of love and hate / but both of them are balanced on a razor blade” left me with chills.

The upgrade and experimentation in Sheeran’s style and expansion in use of instruments is balanced well with his familiar, witty raps with cheeky lyrics that follow suit. He also keeps his romantic side in tact. In a recent interview with Spotify, Sheeran comments that he “wanted the album to be a bit schizophrenic… each song targets a different thing, both sort of subject matter wise and style.” In this diversity, listeners are guaranteed to find common ground and identification with at least one song on the album. This genuinity and relatability that Sheeran is often associated with is frequently a selling feature for him, and ÷ is no exception.

In his dip away from traditionality, Sheeran is fresh without disappointing fans who love his first album. Wherever you are in your journey, ÷ has a track to match; from being lovesick to sick of love, or lost amidst the vast world and all of its competing emotions, Sheeran feels it too, and he wrote about it in ÷.

Grade: A-

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