Sheeran is proof that less is certainly more. Admittedly, I was expecting yet another mediocre singer-songwriter album that has been significantly over-advertised and over-hyped. Thank God, I was mistaken. The strength, feeling, and power that Sheeran is able to concur with just his vocals and guitar is incredible.
Whilst I might not agree with Pharrell Williams on a lot of things (the Blurred Lines saga and THAT hat for starters), I do agree with Williams regarding the view that “Sheeran is different, he thinks about things different. He has a different perspective”. He takes typical subjects such as love (Tenerife Sea), broken dreams (I’m A Mess), and drugs (Bloodstream) - all of which appear to be like almost every other song in the charts these days - but makes them feel atypical in his production. His relatable lyrics have an almost pertinent effect on the listener - it feels as though Sheeran has managed to voice his feelings through lyricism with ease.
This album is dominated by Sheeran’s own personal feelings of hopelessness towards his love life (though I am sure many a girl would gladly take on the challenge to change those feelings, Ed!). One example of this appears in the first song of the album, One. Sheeran sings:
Just promise me, you’ll always be a friend ‘Cause you are the only one.
In the four minutes and thirteen seconds of One, his utter desperation is poured out for the world to hear which is mirrored in the lonesome chords produced by his guitar. Within the track, the girl Sheeran is madly in love with is with someone else, leaving a rather depressingly drunk Sheeran alone with his feelings. One is a perfect start to the album, as it opens up Sheeran’s story of broken hearts and dreams.
This same theme continues in latter track, The Man, which clearly shows off Sheeran’s anger towards the same girl who left him for “the dude from private school” whilst he was on tour. The story continues, going from strength to strength which surprised me, since personally, the singles that have been taken off this album are frankly poor in comparison to the rest of the album.
Sing, as a standalone track, has some admirable qualities such as a catchy beat and the star power of Pharrell Williams. However, it lacks the intense feeling that makes Sheeran stand out. Whilst we are discussing the poorer tracks on the album, that brings me to Don’t (please don’t make me listen to that again). For a song which has such fire-fuelled lyrics - “Don’t fuck with my love / That heart is so cold” - I could not help feeling that the performance did not pack the knockout punch that Sheeran clearly hoped for. Don’t would have fared far better had it displayed the same power as Take It Back. Whether this track was meant to be the male equivalent of a Taylor Swift song, who knows. Despite Sheeran doing a significantly better job than Swift, Don’t still lacked the command and emotion that dominates the rest of the album. Yet put these two tracks aside, and this album builds upon the already significant platform that Sheeran has.
The strongest song on the album has to be Afire Love. This song attempts to deal with a child’s perception of the death of his grandfather. From the first line, I knew it was a track which everyone who has dealt with personal tragedy would be able to identify with:
Things were all good yesterday And then the devil took your memory.
Sheeran has clearly dug into his painful memories to create this beautifully tragic ode that we can assume to be about his own grandfather. However, this does not mean that Sheeran has produced a purely depressive song – this is simply not the case. The surprisingly positive tone of the final verse (with some rather unexpected causal clapping) suggests to the listener that life still moves on – with the ones left that you love.
Another strength of this album is the in-depth study into the nature of drug abuse as featured in Bloodstream. As someone who has never divulged in drug-taking, I think this may be the closest musical interpretation to the feeling of taking drugs that the 21st century has to offer so far (though it must be said, this is not the best song on drugs that I have ever heard, yet that is a conversation for another time…). The power of Bloodstream is in Sheeran’s frank, lyrical honesty regarding his own demons:
Oh, no no, don’t leave me alone, lonely now If you loved me, how’d you never learn?
As well as:
All the voices in my mind Calling out across the line [Tell me when it kicks in]
The last few haunting bars of Bloodstream, after all the hectic baking music, draw attention to the simplicity of Sheeran’s lone voice, and the guitar feels like a musical escape. This is not the only song where drugs are mentioned, with Nina, One, and even the pitiful Sing all covering the topic.
Overall, prepare to be surprised by Sheeran. The intensity and maturity that he is able to portray throughout the majority of this album is not only admirable, but also touching. The magic of Ed Sheeran is that he does not need large amounts of production or fancy sets – just give the man a guitar and he will be able to capture an audience.