Ed Sheeran is a chameleon with a guitar; he fits into any musical scenario with an awkward and a charming grace. He has a joint EP with Yelawolf, impressive feature credits on songs by American rapper Rockie Fresh and grime artist Wiley. He features on a power combo pop love song with pseudo bestie Taylor Swift, a PBR&B song about dejection and detachment with The Weeknd and can also impressively hover around the background of a Jessie Ware song. Sheeran adjusts in a Drake-esque manner.
As a competent performer with loop pedals, Ed Sheeran is a capable one man band, either displaying angst or delivering fun. He’s just as comfortable performing with an all-star ensemble, as the main attraction or as an important peripheral part. Sheeran’s talented enough with his bouncing around, not enough to cover his lack of creativity especially with his solo work.
Ed Sheeran’s new album ÷ (Divide) is mostly a rethread of the tactics that made his sophomore album x (Multiply) a massive hit. He knows what the people want and he’s giving it to them, shrewdly crafted emoting saccharin guitar-pop. ÷ tries its best to not be cloying by changing the subtleties in music presentations and Ed Sheeran’s ability to present same ideas in differing shades is interesting, but ÷ only slightly eschews getting bland after a couple of listens.
The fun toting lead single, ‘Shape of you’ show off a change a sound, but it’s not like it’s the first time he’s using this tactic. It uses Caribbean pop and Sheeran’s guitar to create a crass but somehow inoffensive hit single. Considering sounds from the Caribbean have been on the forefront of Pop music’s biggest songs in recent memory, this isn’t the first time Sheeran has climbed aboard a wave. The lead single from 2014’s x, ‘Sing’ rode the minimalist Funk-Pop wave Pharrell used at the time to create the biggest hits in Pop music (‘Happy’ ‘Blurred Lines’ ‘Get Lucky’).
Ed Sheeran opens up the album flexing his well-known folk-rap flow with ‘Eraser’, a mantra-like statement before he gives out the map of familiarity to be expected on ÷. “Welcome to the new show, guess you know I’ve been away/Where I’m at it, who knows? But my heart will remain the same”. ‘Castle on the Hill’ is generic nostalgia, almost saved by his passionate and stretched vocals while musically channelling Arena rock of classic U2 and rollicking folk-rock of Mumford & Sons.
A first sign of a rethread is obvious on the beautiful third track, ‘Dive’ which is the musical twin of the Grammy winning ‘Thinking Out Loud’. Thematically, ‘Dive’ differs in shades; it seeks affirmation while ‘Thinking Out Loud’ is affirmative in its tone. There’s even the showboating guitar solo common to both track. ‘Perfect’ is lyrically a rehash of ‘Tenerife Sea’, using swelling orchestral pop to present the same idea, it’s beautifully executed but it plays out like a calculated idea from the head.
There’s a song titled ‘The Man’ on x which laments an ex’s newfound lover, there’s also a song titled ‘New Man’ here with the same theme. While ‘The Man’ hinges on self-blame in its lyrics and uses slow jazzy drum thumps, ‘New Man’ uses petty aggressiveness in its lyrics and faster drums. There’s the Irish bar folk-pop on ‘Galway Gal’ produced by former Dr. Dre affiliate Mike Elizondo. ‘Galway Gal’ which might seem awkward by a huge pop star but it’s not hard to picture Sheeran standing on a table in a bar sing-rapping drunkenly at the top of his voice.
The influences of Ed Sheeran’s travels during his hiatus find their way onto the deluxe edition of the album, easily the best part of the album. There’s ‘Barcelona’ which could be a definition of modern day troubadour music, an image of Sheeran singing atop a tour bus accompanied by a horn section. The Ghanaian hiplife inspired ‘Bibia Be Ye Ye’ once again displays his chameleon-ish ability, he fits into the production quite okay and even impressively sings some lyrics in the Ghanaian Twi dialect.
Deluxe edition closer, ‘Save Myself’ co-produced with fellow British singer Labrinth sees Sheeran provide self-indulging soul baring cut which shows spontaneous genuine emoting in contrast to the largely calculated emotions presented in the entirety of ÷. ÷ offers nothing new except confirm Ed Sheeran’s ability to bounce around, this time he does this skeezily and sometimes uninterestingly, between boring poetic soul and played out catharsis.
Writer’s rating: 2.2/5
Words by Peter Dennis Adedotun, aka f(x), aka @ayo_dennis.