(sorry this is so long, I’m clearly just over-excited/obsessed/mentally unnerved by Divide’s brilliance – feel free to ignore everything I’m saying and just look at the pretty blue graphics)
Can we just all take a minute to let all other comparatively inane thoughts fade into insignificance, and devote our deserved attention on Divide, Ed Sheeran’s third full length album.
Now, I’ve always been an Ed Sheeran fan. Super-fan, even. I’d go so far as to describe him as my favourite artist of all time. However, at the risk of sounding like one of those ‘I-liked-this-artist-first-everybody-else-envy-me’ caricatures, I will admit that I only really discovered his work after hearing The A Team on the radio a historic 6 years ago. Whilst I clearly wasn’t present to witness the origins of Ed’s career (presumably the main reason being that I was 4 when he technically ‘started’, and just 10 when he began causing heads to turn), I have backdated and filled myself in with all of his smaller EP’s and little known youtube songs. So I’m not jumping into this album on a “oh I heard that song on the radio maybe I should give Divide a listen” basis, but more of a “ohmygodthishasbeenalongtimecomingI’msoanxiousbutalsoexcited” one.
Also, just to put it out there that I have no musical skill whatsoever, and I’m not qualified at all to be judging someone else’s, but y’know I’ll roll with it. So buckle in because this is going to be a long blog *boos/woos*.
(sidenote: thanks Ed for releasing an album cover with a colour scheme that matches my blog aesthetic; is there anything he can ever do wrong? No.)
“Welcome to the new show
I guess you know I’ve been away
Where I’m heading who knows
My heart will stay the same”
Now, I’m just going to boldly jump into my track-by-track review, to mirror Eraser’s confident introduction to Ed’s album with a brief recapping of his life, position as an artist, and personal views. The hip-hop beats marry with his ability to seamlessly transition from rapping to singing in order to create a cohesive masterclass.
If you haven’t already seen, Ed released an extended version on SBTV last week, and it’s left me very unsure with which I prefer: I like the instrument heavy Eraser (on the album itself), but the acoustic extra verse in the extended version is too good to sacrifice.
Castle on the Hill and Shape of You are now removed and distant in my mind. I don’t know if everyone’s brains do this, but as soon as an artist releases a song as a single (and it is played non stop 24/7), it doesn’t fit with the album anymore? Like obviously melodically it’s unchanged, but something in my brain refuses to provide any sort of continuity between album tracks and singles. Hmph.
I won’t lie, I do skip these songs on the album run-through.
It’s not that I dislike them per say, but they’ve been playing on repeat for the past 8 weeks now, and I’m more interested in the darker, grittier depths of Ed’s album.
“What’s your history?
Do you have a tendency to lead some people on?”
Dive is definitely a grower for me. On my friends’ first listen, 90% of them pinpointed it as their immediate favourite, and I must admit I’d completely forgotten which one it was. However, through the hours on hours I’ve listened to the album, it’s beginning to work its way up my personal favourites. It’s a pop ballad in its prime, and is unafraid to shy away from the title. Me-likey.
(especially when he does the screaming/straining/growling thing with his voice)
“and she looks perfect, no I don’t deserve this
you look perfect tonight”
When Ed advertised ‘Perfect’ as a song which overshadows Thinking Out Loud, I think the general reception was “prepare to be let down”. How can Ed outdo a song which outdid all other love songs in the past decade? I was pretty oblivious (even though Thinking Out Loud isn’t my favourite on Multiply, I can appreciate it for what a stunning proposal of love it is).
However, like always, Ed delivers on his word – ‘Perfect’ is an unassailable ballad like no other which mixes all the best tropes of every love song into one super-machine-mutated-evolved-magical track.
“she played the fiddle in an Irish band
but she fell in love with an English man”
GIVE ME A MINUTE.
While Dive was all of my friends’ immediate favourite, ‘Galway Girl’ was mine, and still unashamedly is. The irish-folklore-medieval-cotton eyed joe-vibe is so refreshing to see on a MAINSTREAM album. Sheeran includes this track as an ode to his Irish heritage (with it being about his grandparents’ love story = HOW CUTE), and it sets up the diverse roots that underpin the heart of Divide.
While songs 1-5 are all quite expect-ed (pun) of Ed; with Eraser being almost like a Take it Back evolution, and Perfect a new and improved Thinking Out Loud (although all are still appreciated), Galway Girl gave me my first genuine shock and excitement at this new era of Ed.
“nursing an empty bottle and telling myself you’re happier,
While the title declares positivity, the song is hallowing and perversely bittersweet? I love a song that takes a few listens to truly understand its angle because it’s so well constructed and deep, and ‘Happier’ fits the brief. I’d describe it as a melodic ballad with an overlying happiness that Ed’s “one that got away” is doing better without him, but a penetrative latent cry of pain for why Ed’s not feeling the same. #rElaTablE no?
“he wears sunglasses indoors in winter at nighttime”
While I was hopeful that this song would be a continuation of ‘The Man’, Ed’s hip-hop exploration on Multiply, ‘New Man’ spills over more into ‘Don’t’ territory, with very similar beats. This diss track about an ex’s aptly titled ‘new man’ is an example of a constant and reliable ‘classic-Ed-vibe’ he brings on every album. While it’s not a stand out for me, it definitely is a solid inclusion.
“she is the lighthouse in the night that will safely guide me home”
This track is possibly the most unsuspecting in my mind. While in any other circumstances this song would be the melodic love track that’d have people swooning left/right/centre/up/down/all around, in juxtaposition with songs like Perfect, I feel like this is hiding in the shadows a little. However, on Ed’s mainstream albums, I tend to like the ones that are usually skimmed over, purely for the fact that they are less well known.
“you know we are made up of love and hate
but both of them are balanced on a razor blade”
With the immediacy of its opening, and its catchy and accessible chorus, ‘What Do I Know?’ is an unassuming but appreciated attempt for Ed to get involved in the political scene (albeit through peaceful and unspecific means). He talks about the ability of music, and artists, to make a wave in the contentious social waters, and pacify any harmful situation.
Apparently he was told by his record label to get rid of the lyric about “exponential growth” but decided to keep it in anyway, and I’m so glad he did because it’s true testament to how he could sing about ANYTHING and make it sound good.
“I had both of my arms round you
watching the sunrise replace the moon”
I’m not overly keen on “How Would You Feel”, much like Hearts Don’t Break Around Here, it’s a pretty run-in-the-mill Ed love ballad with sweet lyrics and a catchy tune. Don’t get me wrong it’s incredibly polished and carefully composed, and I still like it (and will belt it out), but I just favour Ed’s grittier songs.
“so I’ll sing Hallelujah, you were an angel in the shape of my mum”
While I didn’t physically produce tears like most of the fandom (even though I’m literally the biggest cry-baby ever?) this song is truly beautiful. Not only does his vulnerability come through, but it’s gentle and comfortable – it makes us align ourselves with Ed (and his mother who’s perspective the song is told in (why, I’m not sure)) to truly move anyone from the core.
~ Deluxe Tracks ~
“and dance like they do in the Mediterranean
spin you around me again and again”
“and in the pocket of my jeans, are only coins and broken dreams,
my heart is breaking at the seams”
“Nancy was my yellow rose, and we got married wearing borrowed clothes”
“cause human beings are destined to radiate or drain”
What may be even more compelling than the album’s tracklist, are the deluxe inclusions of “Barcelona”, “Bibia Be Ye Ye”, “Nancy Mulligan” and “Save Yourself”. Not only does glorious track 13, ‘Barcelona’, transport us into sunny summer Spanish streets in a carefree ode to all things bright, but along with Bibia Be Ye Ye and Nancy Mulligan, the three extras serve to diversify the album and truly provide a suggestion of Ed letting loose and properly enjoying his eclectic travel and musical inspirations. I think while some critics are arguing that Ed approached the album formulaically (which I take deference to because doesn’t every artist have an approach to their work?), his deluxe tracks serve to shatter this opinion.
‘Save Myself’ requires some time and deciphering to really appreciate in my opinion. On my first listen, this was my least favourite song on the album with what I thought was a slow and melancholic drawl as a beat. I had originally reviewed it (exact-wording) as “I don’t hate the song, I just don’t really see it’s purpose” but boy oh boy did I make a mistake. Like 98% of Ed’s work, the lyrics are stunning and are only enhanced by his choice of tempo, and it furthers the underpinning vulnerability of his album. It’s a realisation track that tackles the cliché that before you can love someone else, you truly have to love yourself.
While Divide is focussed on appealing to a mass audience, and covering any genre under the sun, Ed hides his more provocative and grittier songs alongside overt singing about Doritos, and the Barcelona sunshine. And that’s why I truly love him as an artist, he has an ability to force connections between his audience and any particular song on the album but refrains to let go of his roots.
Ultimately, Divide is everything that could be wanted in Ed’s third album; he refrains from abandoning his roots, but still progresses lyrically and diversely to create an album to please 99.9% of walking breathing humans through one track or another.
Thanks for doing you, Ed.