Ed Sheeran got married, but audiences are barely engaged on ‘=’
Rating: 2.0 / 5.0
Imagine listening to Ed Sheeran singing his wedding vows. For 48 minutes.
This is what Sheeran’s latest album looks like – and like most weddings, you’re going to need to be at least a little drunk to have a good time.
Because everyone loves math, the pop singer-songwriter named his fourth studio solo album =, following the model holder of his discography after 2011 +, 2014 X (which almost no one knew Multiply at the beginning) and 2017 ??. The symbol represents “the end of a question and the beginning of an answer” to Sheeran, but his album raises more questions than solutions. Connect without imagination different numbers in the same equation, = is stereotypical.
Despite his undoubted talent, Sheeran’s creativity only shines sporadically on =. The album acts as fertile ground for the offspring of “Perfect” and “Shape of You”: Inspired but also overwhelmed by his deep love for his wife, Sheeran too often presents romance in the form of stripped guitar ballads or cheeky sexual euphemisms. He touches on fatherhood, loss, and more complex manifestations of love here and there, but he tends to shy away from raw territory and disappointingly sticks to truisms. Sheeran may be on his honeymoon, but few of his songs land.
From the opening of the album with brash drums and piano, “Tides” demands attention instead of justifying it. To give it credit, however, the track takes production risks – its tumultuous instrumentals abruptly end in the pre-chorus, highlighting Sheeran’s contemplation of how love anchors it amid chaos. Yet Sheeran quickly gets carried away trying to relay the ‘changing tides’ of life on =, finding herself stranded at sea.
Its repetitive sequels to “Perfect” manage to engender brief moments of honest intimacy, but the overwhelming swarm of prickly carbon copies of “Shape of You” shake any authenticity. In the theme of his vampire music video, âBad Habitsâ slowly sucks up listeners ‘will-to-live, and âShiversâ is about as erotic as Mark Zuckerberg telling an advertisement – and sadly, because both follow the climbers’ plan. charts, these tracks are destined (not, designed) to circulate on the radio for the next 60 years. Even the “2step” produced by Andrew Watt doesn’t quite hit its mark, though the return of Sheeran’s signature rap-style flow is refreshing on this ballad-heavy record.
To be successful in the modern pop scene, artists must transform traditional formulas into something both compelling new and comfortably familiar. Yet, as with his album titles, Sheeran wholeheartedly embraces the formulas on =. He takes few risks, calmly following the recipes of radio hits as his ingenuity burns in the oven.
It’s no wonder then that so many Sheeran songs go up in smoke. Honest but sickening, “Love in Slow Motion” and “Leave Your Life” personify the Hallmark films, and the chorus of “Collide” might as well play out during a dry makeup scene in the After trilogy. While ?? Lyrics like “fill your bag and I fill a plate” and “he wears sunglasses indoors, in winter, at night” are far from Grammy-worthy, they have an unusually distinctive charm. . In contrast, Sheeran’s many attempts at storytelling on =, like âWe shared a toothbrush and shared our houseâ or âI want to love tonight / One on one by candlelightâ, could be written on live wooden signs, love, laughter decorated with seashells and of martinis.
But redheads have souls, and = have some saving graces. “First Times”, although uncomfortably sandwiched between “Bad Habits” and “Shivers”, serves as a romantic and healthy sequel to “Perfect” with its puffy strings and soft guitar. Dedicated to the late musical director Michael Gudinski, “Visiting Hours” pulls the chords like a poignant and heavenly climax. On the candid and timid track “The Joker and the Queen”, Sheeran’s voice calms down in a whisper as fragile as a house of cards. Here, even if he sometimes seems more confident than sentimental, the strength of his writing finally emerges.
Ironically, these momentary highlights also call attention to the = imbalance. Sadly, his least engaging work to date, Sheeran’s fourth studio record loses ground due to its overall underwhelming lyricism coupled with overproduction. Sheeran was aiming for the extravagance of a wedding, but all he ended up with was the boredom of a four-hour rehearsal dinner.
Taila Lee is associate editor of arts and entertainment. Contact her at [emailÂ protected].