By Josh Schonfeld
It’s taken five years, but it’s official: I’m a Sheerio. I had employed the strategy of “If I can’t see you, you can’t see me” with his first two albums and it worked perfectly. It wasn’t until “Thinking Out Loud” became inescapable on pop radio in the winter of 2015 that I began showing signs of appreciating Ed Sheeran’s music. Now with the release of Divide, I have become a full-blown Sheeran-enthusiast, which is a stark contrast to my usual distaste for singer/songwriter types with “live” instrumentation.
Aptly titled Divide, Sheeran’s latest album is split between the home he left behind and the various people and places he’s experienced while touring around the globe. Songs such as “Castle on the Hill” and “Galway Girl” just ooze with nostalgia while “Barcelona” and “Bibia Be Ye Ye” recount his adventures in Spain. Using this divide, Sheeran balances the evolution of his sound while staying true to his roots. “What Do I Know?” explains perfectly how he still feels like the same person just starting out in the industry even though he’s arguably one of the biggest male pop stars on the planet now.
A unique twist Sheeran puts in his music is his family history, as seen in “Nancy Mulligan” and “Supermarket Flowers.” “Nancy Mulligan” tells the true story of Sheeran’s grandparents meeting 60 years ago and falling in love to the tune of an Irish jig. Even though you’ve never met his grandparents before, you instantly know the immense amount of love they have for each other and how much they mean to the Sheeran family history. “Supermarket Flowers” is the heartbreaking piano ballad tribute to his grandmother who had recently passed away. Sheeran originally did not want to include it on the record as it’s incredibly personal, but it was his grandfather that told him he had to share this with the world.
One can also divide the album into two personalities as well: fourth member of BBMak Ed Sheeran or sassy, pissed off Ed Sheeran. While his romantic ballads and spitfire break-ups songs shine, it’s his in-between tracks that sound like he’s auditioning for a boy band. “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here” is a prime example of this. He also attempts to recreate his past hits to varying success. “Dive” is essentially the ugly stepsister of “Thinking Out Loud” with rougher instrumentation and unpolished vocals. “New Man,” on the other hand, is similar to his hit, “Don’t” (and may even be about Ellie Goulding as well, who knows), yet still feels fresh and shows an improvement on his slick diss tracks. It doesn’t hurt that he mentions “bleached assholes,” which is always a crowd pleaser.
Sheeran is at his peak on the album with “How Do You Feel (Paean).” The strum of his guitar and melody of the chorus feel hypnotic as you can feel yourself falling in love along with Sheeran as he sings about his girl. He keeps it from getting boring by waking you up with a yell every so often since he can’t hold his love in much longer. Once the electric guitar appears, you just know it will be an instant classic for weddings to come.
Divide proves that Sheeran is capable of pushing himself to new peaks while still staying true to what made him a star in the first place. Not only does this album satisfy the die-hard fans, it also provides the perfect bridge to former non-believers like me to fall in love with Sheeran’s incredible artistry and talent.