Nowadays, it has become all but impossible to tell the history of acoustic pop or the emergence of folk music as a global sound without writing Ed Sheeran’s name in almost every sentence.
In the last seven years, the 23-year-old ginger-haired lad has taken his mix of emotive ballads, folk and hip-hop from his native Yorkshire, by way of cosigns from Jamie Foxx to Elton John, to the global stage.
His new album is the latest chapter in that journey.
In December 2015, Ed Sheeran announced that he was taking a break from social media to work on new music for his album because he felt he had begun “seeing the world through a screen and not my eyes”.
Exactly a year later, he returned to social media to begin the rollout process for the album by posting a picture of a light blue background on his accounts.
In a short 10 minute video, he announced that the album would be titled “÷” in keeping with his use of mathematical symbols on 2011’s “+” and 2014’s “*”.
After two platinum-selling albums and sold out concerts, Ed Sheeran is a truly global star in the real sense. “÷” begins with “Eraser”, a track that addresses his journey up till this point and how he’s handling that new found fame with “whisky in white lines and smoke in my lungs”.
Ed’s never really been a topnotch rapper, or anything close for that matter, but he has a way with words that he combines well with brooding melodic verses.
He sings on the bridge;
“Welcome to the new show
I guess you know I’ve been away
But where I’m heading, who knows?
But my heart will stay the same”
Eraser is a perfect opening to the album; a declaration of his intent to push himself beyond whatever limits he set on previous projects.
“Castle on the Hill”, one of the album’s two singles, is a passionate guitar and drum-driven pop song that takes Ed back to his days growing up in the English town of Framlingham, Suffolk. He sings of his friends, their vices and the love he still has for this town that seems to summon him back.
Love is a recurring theme on Ed Sheeran’s projects and “÷” is no different. In an interview with GQ, he openly admitted that all the love songs on the album are about Cherry Seaborn, his girlfriend.
“Dive” and “Perfect” touch on vulnerability and being sufficient for one’s lover; on “Happier” and “New Man”, he sings about loss and finding love after a failed relationship and the chance of a reunion.
The crowning glory is the beautiful “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here” where, finally, he professes his love for her without reservation.
Ed Sheeran is in a place where, even when it is clear that heavy ballads are his forte, it is near impossible to put him in a box.
He is never afraid to try out new sounds; (he enlisted Pharell to help add an R&B edge to his sound while recording 2014’s “X”), still “÷” is his most ambitious project yet.
There are songs that are obvious nods to the style that has never failed him: “Perfect” seems like a successful attempt to recreate “Thinking Out Loud”; Dive reminds you of “Tenerife Sea” albeit with a bit more R&B in the mix, but there is more of the new than the familiar.
“Galway Girl”, one of the album’s best tracks, is a drunken, feet-stomping rave about an Irish girl that falls in love with an English man. The song features beautiful melodies courtesy of Irish fiddles that, according to Ed, he had to fight with his label to have on the album.
He embraces West african melodies for “Bibia Be Ye Ye”, a traditionally groovy re-assuring track sung in Ghana’s Twi that he co-wrote with Fuse ODG.
Ed Sheeran finds success with “÷” by simply letting himself grow. His oldest fans will find the melody, emotion and songwriting that Sheeran has come to be renowned for but he combines it with new influences that perfectly reflect where he is at this stage in his life and career.
“Divide” is an anthemic masterpiece; this is the album Ed Sheeran always wanted to make.
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