Ed Sheeran has matured. He tells you about it in ‘Tides’, the song that opens his new album. The artist is “ashamed” of the things he did “in his youth”, he wishes “he had done things differently” and even sometimes dreams of “disappearing without a trace”. His reflection has not reached him thanks to pitchfork that is known, but to fatherhood: «I have matured, now I am a father, everything has changed but, somehow, I am still the same». And when you hear ‘=’ it’s impossible not to agree with him.
Has Ed Sheeran changed? The answer is yes and no. On the one hand, ‘=’ no longer horrifies with lyrics that can be framed in a behavior of toxic masculinity, like those of his other albums; on the other, the music of ‘=’ does not mark a great evolution in any direction that might surprise the critics, who have usually reviled his work. In ‘=’, Sheeran presents a series of easily digestible songs with which he tries to keep commercial interest in his work alive. Needless to say, with ‘Bad Habits’ and ‘Shivers’, he has succeeded.
The first single from ‘=’, ‘Bad Habits’, has drawn comparisons to Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’. Some say it is plagiarism. I think that being inspired by ‘Smalltown Boy’ is always a good idea and that the melody of ‘Shape of You’ resembled that of ‘No Scrubs’ only accidentally. ‘Bad Habits’ is so catchy that you’ll memorize it on first listen, but it also sounds so calculated that it borders on guilty pleasure. ‘Shivers’ is another addictive pop song and the 80s homage to ‘Overpass Graffiti’, a bit A-Ha, makes up the best song on the album overall.
In ‘=’, Sheeran doesn’t pursue the electronic sound of these songs but opts instead for a variety to keep everyone happy. He remains committed to the role of singer-songwriter in ‘First Times’ or the beautiful ‘Visiting Hours’, dedicated to his deceased friend, record executive Michael Gudinski; he looks for a new ‘Thinking Out Loud’ in ‘Love in Slow Motion’, another ballad that will play at future weddings; he keeps rapping as best he can on ‘2step’ and drinks from Dido’s breakbeat and warm synths on ‘Collide’. The songs are correct but generic, they give the feeling of having heard them a thousand times before.
If the entirety of ‘=’ sounds like Sheeran remains locked in his particular “comfort zone”, his lyrics inspire the same. As much as the Englishman says he’s matured, his good-natured role hasn’t gone anywhere, to the point that he dedicates ‘Overpass Graffiti’ to his first girlfriend, to whom he sings that “I’ll always love you” and that his memory of them together “will never be erased.” In the rest of the album he reminds his wife of all the moments they have spent together looking at the moonlight, dancing by candlelight, having a beer in an Irish pub in Rome. “I know you could fall in love with a thousand kings, and with hearts that would give you diamonds, but you see the best in me,” he sings in the intimate ‘The Joker and the Queen’ despite the fact that he is the one who could give him all the diamonds that I would like
Ed Sheeran’s nonsense would work if it weren’t riddled with clichés. ‘Sandman’ is a walking one: it is a lullaby for his daughter in which banjos, ukuleles and xylophones sound. Why say more? In ‘Shivers’ he sings that he wants to “drink the smile” of his wife and that he wants to feel “as if my soul is on fire” but the song lacks more iron than a Tim Burton character. ‘Be Right Now’ encourages us to live in the moment and it’s not called ‘Carpe Diem’ because maybe it was too obvious. Hardly ‘Leave Your Life’ makes your heart shrink when you read that Ed has written it to her daughter in case he dies before she can know he loves her. The rest of the songs on ‘=’ don’t have such an emotional undercurrent, and its portrayal of married life is as superficial and inane as the music that surrounds it. Where is the lo-fi ‘Nebraska’ album that he was composing?
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Ed Sheeran / = – jenesaispop.com
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