Ed Sheeran’s Divide, an Exercise in Capitalization
Ed Sheeran has made a career out of being the cute ginger kid who writes songs that elicit very specific emotions. He has away of capturing the tone and tenderness of a moment, wrapping it in metaphors, British accents and acoustic guitars then unleashing it as a direct attack on your feels. Both + (Plus) and x (Multiply) were coordinated drone lead missile strikes on the most delicate areas of your emotions. With his new release ÷ (Divide), Sheeran plays to these strengths more than ever before. One has to applaud him for understanding his place in the pop music landscape. Yes, every angsty kid with an acoustic guitar is doing one man band parlor tricks with a loop pedal now and it may seem that he’s old hat, but when it come to pop radio, the public is hungry enough for Ed’s sweet and salty style of “just edgy enough” alt rock to float his career for the next 2-3 years at least.
With that said, ÷ could have derailed this, it could have been a wild stylistic departure from his earlier work. It could have leaned more into the generic Pop sound of say, a modern Maroon 5, or it could have been a curveball akin to Dave Matthew’s Everyday, but its not. ÷ is what it needs to be to capitalize on Sheeran’s current mega-stardom. Its the smartest move he could have made and the outcome is an album that rivals the best he’s recorded to date. Clocking in at just under an hour (if you’ve got the deluxe edition), its a long listen and it doubles down on his previous successes. It has 2 tracks that are analogs to his mega-hit “Thinking Out Loud” in “Perfect”, and “How Would You Feel”, and the sappy nostalgic buttons that “Photograph” pressed so hard are covered by new tracks “Supermarket Flowers” and “Castle On the Hill”.
Basically all the songs that were successful on x, have defacto substitutes on ÷. “Sing” = “Shape of You”, “Don’t” = “New Man”. Sheeran is almost shameless in his self-replication. Surprisingly, it doesn’t matter, Sheeran’s lyrics and delivery are so sharp and poignant, that even the 16 track album doesn’t seem like enough music to quench the thirst. Most of the risks that he takes with new sounds are found after the fold, or in the “Deluxe” edition tracks. “Barcelona”, “Bibia Be Ye Ye” and “Nancy Mulligan” all show Sheeran fiddling with interesting new ideas. Smartly, he threw them on the extended version, so anyone that doesn’t like them, can simply right them off as not being on the base release.
The most exciting new song on ÷ has got to be “Galway Girl”. A funky, Irish dance influenced rap about a girl Sheeran is bested by and falls for at a bar, that is so fresh, it erupts out of the speakers. Needless to say, Pop radio has plenty to mine out of this release, and for a public that is still in full support of his hokey charm, ÷ is exactly what Sheeran needed. Conversely, if you are looking for something different, you will not find it here. But honestly, at this point in his career, who is looking for “different”? Yeah I didn’t think so.
When will his shtick be up? When will his brand of “cool” be passe? All similar artist before him have had to change to try and adapt, with many of them did so embarrassingly, while others simply failed. Luckily it looks like it will be years before he’s got to worry about that.
Verdict: You already know if this is your fancy.