We’ve been waiting almost three years since Ed Sheeran released his second album, x, in the summer of 2014. Since then, he has won two Grammys and sold almost three million copies of x, the most streamed album of 2014 on Spotify. Ed Sheeran has written songs for other artists that have gone on to be huge hits, such as “Love Yourself” and “Cold Water,” choosing to give those songs to other artists instead of using them for his own album. Everyone has been patiently waiting to see what Ed’s third album has in store after three long years, and if it will be capable of surpassing the massive success of x.
As I listened to ÷ the day it was released on Spotify, progressing from song to song, my predominant feeling was disappointment. As a week has passed and I have listened to the album repeatedly, this feeling of disappointment lingers. Out of all sixteen songs on ÷, a whopping seven of them are slow ballads of some kind. They all cover the same old stuff we’ve already heard from Sheeran about eternal love or heartbreak that’s so sugary sweet it’s almost a little ridiculous. Out of the remaining nine songs, there are two pop-Irish jigs, a song featuring language from Ghana, an angsty rap about how fame is terrible, and a half-hearted tribute to Barcelona.
Don’t get me wrong- the Irish songs and “Bibia Be Ye Ye” are excellent and extremely catchy, and I have no problem with Sheeran’s exploration of other styles. However, all of these transitions from slow pop ballads to cheerful reels and sassy raps come across as incredibly lacking in cohesion. The transitions are so abrupt and leap across so many genres that we start losing sight of the tone of the album and Sheeran’s distinctive voice. While each of the individual songs show talent and are enjoyable on their own, it feels as though we’re listening to a collection of samples from different artists. This overall lack of cohesion leaves the listener feeling there is something missing or wanting—everything is good, but it’s not great, and after three years of waiting, we were expecting something great.
Beyond these erratic jumps in style, I am simply disappointed at the lack of songs that Sheeran is known for: quirky and catchy raps with fast and clever lyrics and a unique syncopated rhythm, such as “Drunk,” “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You,” or “Don’t.” I was expecting Sheeran to stick to this foolproof style that everyone admires and loves and that has defined him as an incredible pop songwriter, but instead he is drifting towards a more mature rock sound that may well leave many of his teen and twenties listeners unsatisfied. Can I really see myself jamming out at Sheeran’s concert to “Happier” or “Barcelona” as I used to jam out at his concerts to “I’m A Mess” or “Give Me Love”? If I’m being honest, no. “Barcelona” kind of sounds like something a middle-aged couple trying to relive their young glory days would enjoy.
That being said, there are a few standout tracks that remind me that Ed Sheeran is still the amazing Ed Sheeran, and if nothing else I have these songs to hold onto after three years of waiting:
“Eraser” — This song is a hard and moody rap about the pitfalls of fame, showcasing his incredible rapping and lyrical talent that remind us of the depth and self-awareness he has that makes him so genuine.
“New Man” — We get another taste of playful, bitter Ed Sheeran bashing on one of his exes and her ridiculous new boyfriend in another pop-rap song reminiscent of “Don’t,” and it’s what we’ve been waiting for to blast in our cars after a breakup.
Overall, I’m not saying that ÷ isn’t good, or that most of the songs are terrible. It’s a decent album with some clever songwriting, unique rhythms and styles, and a great vocalist to carry the songs. However, I am a huge fan of Ed Sheeran, and after seeing what he is capable of in the past, my expectations were sky-high for his third album. Those expectations were not met, but I’m still going to listen to the album and continue supporting him. I look forward to seeing what he has in store for us for his next album.