Eleanor has a listen through Ed Sheeran’s new album ‘divide’ and reviews each track:
- Eraser. This track immediately reminded me of the early Sheeran track ‘You need me, I don’t need you’. It also channels Sheeran’s rapping and rhythmic talent which saw ‘Lego House’ become such a success. Acting as a follow up to ‘You need me…’, Sheeran sings about the difficult and problematic aspects of fame and fortune. The production is full and driving, with a classical guitar, an almost Latin vibe, subtly referencing mid 00s to great effect.
- Castle on the Hill. One of Sheeran’s two simultaneous single releases, this song has been thrashed on the radio over the last month. It has played at least once every time I have driven anywhere my car. Despite this (and to Sheeran’s credit), I still can’t help but sing along every time. The U2-esque driving guitar, Sheeran’s unmistakable voice and the nostalgia conjured up as he reflects on his formative years, I can’t help but be transported myself to my earlier years (although mine seem tame compared to some of what Sheeran got up to). The production is big again here, with a constant driving guitar, up-tempo pulse and lower-pitched instrumentation which gives Sheeran’s voice plenty of room to soar.
- Dive. A slower, more RnB leaning tune, which shows of Sheeran’s vocal abilities in a way we haven’t heard before from him. We get a power and grittiness from his voice which has, in the passed, been smoothed out of his studio recordings. This slower jam touches on the fickleness with which certain people approach relationships and the incurring heartache. Sheeran desperately cries ‘Don’t call me baby/Unless you mean it’; a universal experience that isn’t often sung about by mainstream pop artists.
- Shape of You. The other of Sheeran’s single dump on our radio waves, and the other song that is guaranteed to be playing in the car at some point. This dance-pop track borrows from the Caribbean influences that have taken over the top 40 over the last year at least, while still remaining distinctly Sheeran. Sheeran’s masterful rhythmic-lyrical ability is at work again here, while backing vocals play a larger role in this track (or more of a role than on a typical Sheeran track).
- Perfect. The brakes go on a little bit here. Sheeran is singing about a love, backed by an electric guitar (usual for him) and an organ (unusual for him/pop in general). This slow jam/love song will most definitely become the next ear worm on the wedding circuit (just as we were finally escaping ‘Thinking out loud’). It’s sweet though, after 2 albums essentially about heartbreak, to have such a perfectly lovely song. The production lets the poetic lyrics down here though, the slow-jam style drums and electric guitar seem too similar to ‘Dive’, and get old quickly. I will probably YouTube hundreds of acoustic covers of this song at midnight tonight though.
- Galway Girl. I freaking love this song. Irish/Celtic music meets Sheeran’s hip hop leanings, this song about meeting a fiddle player and starting a romance is so much fun, and makes me want to dance so bad. This is probably due to my upbringing and Celtic background, but the fiddle line over the chorus mixed with the drum programming of the rapped verses keeps the song fresh and exciting, add in acoustic guitar, and some epic backing vocals and I am away dancing.
- Happier. This guitar/piano led ballad about seeing an ex happy with someone else, is some of the most self-reflective, deep stuff Sheeran has come up with. ‘Ain’t nobody hurt you like I hurt you/Ain’t nobody love you like I do/Promise that I will not take it personal/Baby if you’re moving on with someone new/Cause baby you look happier, you do/My friends told me one day I’ll feel it too/Until then I’ll smile and hide the truth/That I know I was happier with you.’ Sheeran is brutally honest about his own misgivings in the relationship, she is happier with someone else, but her was happier with her. This internal tension builds as a heartbeat kick drum comes in, taking the song from piano/guitar to full production and back again.
- New Man. Sheeran dragging an ex’s new man, making some observations that I can’t repeat in this article. It’s always fun when Sheeran goes in on someone who crossed him (see ‘Don’t’ from ‘x’). His rapping really comes into its own when he is roasting his enemies (well, ex’s new boyfriends).
- Hearts Don’t Break Around Here. Another of Sheeran’s acoustic guitar love songs. This is a perfectly fine song, but is more forgettable than ‘Perfect’.The stripped back production is more suited here, however. Again we have more, subtle, almost church-choir-like backing vocals. It’s well-documented that Sheeran was a choir boy (he has mentioned this most recently on this album) so maybe that’s where this is coming from? Just a thought.
- What Do I Know? Another 00s alternative/acoustic guitar pop vibe. Thematically, however, this song doesn’t seem as strong as other tracks on the album. On minute Sheeran is singing about how he doesn’t know about investment banking, next he is singing about love in the world? Sheeran is usually strong thematically lyric-wise, so this is a little bit bizarre. I appreciate the stripped back production here though, the punchy electric guitar and drum programming with the hums make for a cute little track.
- How Would You Feel (Paean). This was the third (promotional) single released before the album, and again we are back to ‘Thinking out loud’ with less success. This will still become a staple of the wedding season but it has nothing on ‘Perfect’, not lyrically or musically.
- Supermarket Flowers. Written about the death of his grandmother from the perspective of his mother, this is some of Sheeran’s best work. Sheeran masterfully paints a picture of grief and loss, describing seemingly mundane tasks which make up this time in anybody’s life. The church choir influences come back in here, in the backing vocals as well as Sheeran singing ‘Hallelujah’ twice in the chorus. This track also has much more space musically and lyrically than Sheeran usually indulges in, which really gives it room to breath.
- Barcelona. Sheeran famously ditched his phone/social media and travelled the world for a year. These influences come in with the bonus tracks, starting with ‘Barcelona’. The Latin/Spanish influences are very deliberate here, as Sheeran sings about spending a night dancing with a beautiful woman in Spain. The song had some fantastic moments, where again Sheeran shows of the true extent of what his voice can do. The grittiness is back, resulting in an upbeat, exciting track, if it lacks a little in the lyric department.
- Bibia Be Ye Ye. Another travel inspired track? Probably. While the use of Spanish language in ‘Barcelona’ is nothing new for pop music, incorporating Ghana culture and language into a mainstream pop track is exciting for so many reasons; the exposure given to the Ghana producers and songwriters and the exposure of their culture and language.
- Nancy Mulligan. With the massive track ‘Thinking out loud’ Sheeran showed his finesse for telling other people’s stories through his music (specifically, the love between his grandparents). Again, Sheeran tells a story in this Irish/Celtic track, I’m assuming is again about his grandparents. It is a great old romp, and I am very envious of Sheeran’s ability to rhyme everything.
- Save Myself. A piano led, slow track about being worn down by life (and others) and putting yourself first (self care). Again this is interesting because like ‘Happier’, self care isn’t a prominent theme in mainstream pop music. While melodically and lyrically this song isn’t’ a massive stand out in his discography, it is saved by how vulnerable Sheeran is with this song.
THE VERDICT: This record is a definite step forward for Sheeran, as he experiments with musical style and lyrical storytelling. Sheeran is at his strongest when he is being vulnerable or having a blast with this music.
TOP TRACKS: Eraser, Castle On The Hill, Shape Of You, Perfect, Galway Girl, Happier, Supermarket Flowers.
Eleanor is a music and business student at the University of Auckland and works for AYM, including stuff with the GC! She is happiest when she is making music, performing or behind a camera. She is a film/tv/music addict and writes about them on the blog (these posts can be found under ‘culture’). She also MCs or plays at our cafe events and is a below average beat boxer.