Ed Sheeran - 'Divide'
Replay Value6.8
Overall Impact8.5
We Liked...
  • Castle on the Hill. Seriously, it's a fantastic song, go listen to it.
  • The first steps taken to finally moving away from the unassuming 18 year old who released 'A-Team'.
  • The (admittedly conservative) genre-experimentation.
We Disliked...
  • The Sheeran fluff.
  • The retread of previous songs.
  • The occasional moments where the lyrics are trying too hard and come off clumsy.
7.4Overall Score
Reader Rating: (2 Votes)

When ‘Castle on the Hill’ and ‘Shape of You’ were first released, many thought them the heralding of a new Shee-era. The generic diversity for two simultaneously released singles was rather impressive, although the clear winner was ‘Castle on the Hill’, which managed to combine the signature Sheeran emotional lyrical waxing with the previously uncharted generic waters of classic rock. The sheer size and scale of that song alone inspired new hope for the ginger haired guitarist, whose previous two albums have received mixed reviews.

It is somewhat of a shame then, that Ed Sheeran has released what can be categorically identified as an Ed Sheeran album. Whether you think this a good or bad thing is a matter of personal preference, but artistic development really doesn’t seem like too tall an order for someone as talented as Sheeran.

Which is the thing. He is very talented. When he hits his songwriting stride, the criticisms of his body of work fall by the wayside. The margins of cliché-drowned lyrics, overzealous attempts at ethnographic lyrical content that often result in clumsy lines and conservative genre-crossing that honestly isn’t that impressive anymore in a world where Lady Gaga has made a country album don’t really impact the core on songs like ‘Castle on the Hill’, brilliant rags-to-riches opener ‘Eraser’ and the Celt-tinged and surprisingly aggressive and fast-paced ‘Galway Girl’.

However, the 2:1 ratio of meh to good songs Sheeran has developed as the framework for his releases rears its ugly head once again here. ‘Dive’ is essentially ‘Thinking Out Loud’ with a slightly different lyrical focus – sure, it’s nice for the singer to show off his impressive voice (it’s often forgot the man can actually sing quite well amidst discussions on his songwriting and unassuming persona), but do we really need the token early-album ballad? Especially considering a better ballad and inevitable single – ‘Perfect’ – is one song away.

The aforementioned ‘Shape of You’ keeps to the current trend of minimalist production techniques in pop songs (see: Work by Rihanna, pretty much any Drake song, etc.), unfortunately suffering from it (if it wasn’t a single it’d certainly be one of the more forgettable songs on the album). Having said this, the hip-hop/dancehall influences aren’t anywhere near as intolerable as some would have predicted before listening to the song.

The focus so far here has been on the song’s merit themselves. Lyrics and instrumentation tend to be talking points in reviews of Sheeran’s music, given their importance in his overall package. However, there simply isn’t anything that can be said here that couldn’t be said about his previous two LPs. His lyrics remain firmly within the range of clumsy to strong, erring on the side of strong (unless the song structure forces him to vacuum pack syllables into his verses). Instrumentally he proves once again to be a strong musician, even showing a few new tricks off with the world music-influenced bonus tracks (which are WAY more interesting than the majority of the main album).

It really is the fluff that fluffs this album for Sheeran. Cliché-ridden ‘Happier’, ‘New Man’ and ‘How Would You Feel’ are unlikely to be anyone’s favourites – they simply lack the personality of the rest of the album. But for every disappointment, there is a pleasant surprise, with Sheeran showing his earnestness at both ends of the emotional music spectrum, with the world-watching ‘What Do I Know?’ and the sombre letter to his grandmother ‘Supermarket Flowers’, the latter of which may be Sheeran’s best ever ballad – quite the accomplishment given his back catalogue.

Overall, ‘Divide’ is…fine? It’s difficult to give a final verdict. Sheeran’s best songs are undoubtedly on this album in ‘Castle on the Hill’ and ‘Supermarket Flowers’, but his most forgettable are as well. He’s started sprinkling some new influences on his music, as well as playing to his strengths more overtly, whilst proving he can comfortably step away from the ballad/R&B-infused music he butters his bread with. He certainly knows his strengths by this point – he now needs to identify the weaker facets of his music. If ‘Plus’ and ‘Multiply’ were the sounds of a boy finding his sound, then ‘Divide’ is perhaps the vessel for the last kinks to be ironed out of Sheeran’s music. It’ll be interesting to see what’s coming in the inevitable ‘Subtract’.

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