On his third album, Sheerans continues to do what he does best - write mass-produced, unimaginative pop music
Ah, the music industry. She's a fickle one.
When Ed Sheeran first clichéd-ly burst on to 'the scene', he was beloved by most. I mean, what wasn't to love? There he was - a hard-working young musician busking on Shop Street, a twinkle in his eye; a loop-pedal at his feet and a dream in his heart. Sheeran was so far removed from the pop star perception that he could have walked past you in the street without batting an eyelid
Three albums later, public opinion seems to have seismically shifted and it's hard to pinpoint exactly what caused the development. Over-saturation? A possibility, certainly. Despite abandoning social media for a year to work on his new album 'Divide', Sheeran has still seemed inescapable - he began the promotional campaign for the album in January after all.
Or maybe it's the fact that people have copped on to how hard Sheeran works at being viewed as hard-working. It's rare to find an artist who begs for their authenticity to be believed, but we've found it in him for sure.
Shape of You - one of the album's two singles, and originally intended for Rihanna - attempts to convey to listeners that he is more than just your average hopeless romantic. No no, Ed Sheeran also has sex ladies and gentlemen! Undoubtedly the least stale sounding track, on lyrics alone it is cringe-inducing of nuclear proportions.
Part of Sheeran's initial appeal was ultimately his Van Morrison-esque self-doubt with an almost burgeoning hip-hop ego - 'Divide' does nothing but scream 'look at me! Look what I'm doing! I'm an ARTIST!' for 16 tracks. It's tiresome - especially considering no one ever really doubted Sheeran's star potential.
Case in point - Galway Girl. Maybe his intentions were good, but considering his Guardian interview - in which he seemingly shades The Corrs - that seems doubtful. The twee folk-pop jam is less of an appreciation of a widely revered genre and culture, and more a shameless attempt at capitalising on an enormous Irish fan base with deep pockets. Not to mention the fact that it is a lyrical mess - "You know she beat me at darts and then she beat me at pool / And then she kissed me like there was nobody else in the room".
When something gets popular, you will always find a brigade of people ready to criticise it solely for being so. With that said, 'Divide' has a few redeeming qualities (stress the word 'few').
Dive is the only track on the record in which Ed Sheeran emotes; where he sounds like he might actually be feeling something. Beyond that, it's your typical Big Strong Guitar Ballad™️️ and doesn't break new ground instrumentally. Similarly, "you were an angel in the shape of my mum" on Supermarket Flowers is the only lyric which may prompt a lump-in-throat reaction.
On his third album, Ed Sheeran is ultimately complacent, and it's hard to blame him for being so. In a commercial sense, his formula works - every track on 'Divide' currently occupies a space in the Spotify Top 20.
But complacency is never a good thing. Galway Girl came as as a result of complacency and arrogance - a fiddle here, a colloquial dig there, his name on the front and hey presto, he has a hit. But seemingly sneering at The Corrs and yet releasing this with any sense of pride is an act which completely contradicts itself.
Since Sheeran loves speaking in mathematical terms, let's summarise thusly - 'Divide' will see his bank balance multiply, but it's a fraction as enjoyable as his previous efforts, due to its divisive and derivative nature.
'Divide' by Ed Sheeran is available now through Asylum and Atlantic Records.