Ed Sheeran’s Divide depicts a vast array of sounds never once heard before on an album.
First there was + (pronounced ‘Plus’), where a born and bred Suffolk ginger-headed teenager rose to prominence amidst a scratchy pubescent voice and skilful acoustic guitar. Then came X (pronounced ‘Multiply’), where this softly-spoken teenager morphed into a global star full of popularity, charisma and unbridled talent. Now comes Divide, where the risqué and charming 25 year old follows a year long hiatus by settling down into a niche that perfects his sound in order to produce his best and most memorable album.
You wouldn’t expect it from the opening bars of the album though. With the sky blue album cover eliciting ideas of strong adulthood and an exploration into the chart-toppers that have littered his career, Sheeran does what Sheeran does; produce a completely different sound that throws millions of fans worldwide.
This is seen in the opening song ‘Eraser’, where the hardships and covert conflicts that come with rising to prominence are eloquently divulged in a mixture of delightful guitar riffs and rap. An extended version released on YouTube highlights Sheeran’s reflection on his rise and his background, while the studio version includes an almost Spanish guitar riff, along with a bridge that welcomes listeners “to the new show”. For once, the rap songs that Sheeran can perfect are not hidden as B-sides, as his sufficient rapping talents are directed at his life and internal struggles instead of a particular female or the use of alcohol and drugs in order to promote a certain struggle that is more meaningful than anything else on the current music scene. ‘Eraser’ theorises the idea of finding “comfort” in “pain”, coating the other songs in a lens that provides ulterior meanings.
One of two initially released singles, ‘Castle On The Hill’ is a revelling summertime anthem that encourages nostalgia. But, the personal lyrics of ‘Eraser’ exudes homesickness and longing, allowing the U2 and Snow Patrol modelled ballad to be a stadium filler.
Sheeran’s soft pop ability is perpetuated throughout ‘Dive’. The smooth guitar riffs and passionate vocals makes it a classic, as the rare inclusion of Jessie Ware’s voice and an Eric Clapton guitar solo is the equivalent of a soft ballad from AC/DC.
The popular chart-topper ‘Shape Of You’, with the clever use of marimba’s and keyboard, creates a catchy and diverse sound. Sheeran returns to the topic of love and lust that saw Multiply become so popular, with the popping keyboard signalling an expansive pop sound. Followed by the primary ballad ‘Perfect’, written in order to surpass the popularity of Multiply hit ‘Thinking Out Loud’, Divide takes upon a variable sound. This wedding tune includes the crux of Sheeran’s love song capabilities, as it is rhythmic, heart-wrenching and utterly beautiful. The success of this song is a fundamental record in shaping the talent, ability and worth of Divide.
After ‘Perfect’ is when the real diversity arrives, with traditional Irish pipes is contrasted by rap and hip hop to create the overwhelming song ‘Galway Girl’. The variety epitomises the talent that allows the Suffolk singer-songwriter to stand head and shoulders above his current contemporaries, while also appealing to a mass population in the Irish. If ‘Perfect’ was comparative to ‘Thinking Out Loud’, then seventh track ‘Happier’ is similar to ‘Photograph’, if not more meaningful. Music expert Zane Lowe described it as “the most powerful song on the album”, with the emotions and longing behind the lyrics and drawl of the instruments flat lining pulses.
The inconsistent divert is continued by ‘New Man’, a cheeky sequel to ‘Don’t’. Exploring the typical man who “owns every single Ministry CD” and has “his eyebrows plucked and his arsehole bleached”, Sheeran’s contrasting sounds that form beauty is contradicted by this zestful record that both shapes and diminishes the power of the album.
‘Hearts Don’t Break Around Here’ follows, as this comparison to the beautiful ‘Tenerife Sea’ makes it a high point of the album. Being Sheeran’s personal favourite, it is pretty obvious as to why. The flow of lyrics and melody is memorable and sweet, eliciting the idea of personalising the song for every listener.
If that wasn’t enough, ‘What Do I Know’ is a catchy rhythmic song that couples with ‘Hearts Don’t Break Around Here’ to form the best two songs on the album. Rarely seen political thoughts are expressed by Sheeran, as he theorises that “love can change the world in a moment, but what do I know?”. It has a ‘Love Yourself’ (written by Ed Sheeran) vibe to it, yet it surpasses it in message and lyricism, such is the vocabulary and rhyme of Sheeran.
The album is then rewound to +, with the third released single in ‘How Would You Feel (Paean)’ recounting confessions of love towards current partner Cherry Seaborn. Piano ballads like this have made the singer famous yet also chastised by hard-edged critics, as it is a make or break number. But, no critics can denounce the following ‘Supermarket Flowers’, which encourages tears in a moving tribute to Sheeran’s recently deceased grandmother. The incredibly sensitive and moving song focusses on the small aspects of human life, leaving the listeners emitting ‘wow’s’.
The deluxe album contains four more tracks, including ‘Barcelona’, which emits daydreams of sangria’s in Spanish sunshine. ‘Bibia Be Ye Ye’, recorded in Ghana, expresses the increasing diversity of the album, as its chant and light-hearted instrumentals represents a side of the sensitive Sheeran that many would never have predicted. Irish folk song Nancy Mulligan details tale of Sheeran’s grandparents forging a Romeo and Juliet like love in Ireland. Final song ‘Save Myself’ reflects the inner demons that torture Sheeran in ‘Eraser’ in a much softer and submissive fashion.
All in all, the year-long anticipated follow up for Sheeran is a masterpiece that surpasses previous works due to the fact of his sheer diversity and talent. By still maintaining the sensitive edges in his emotional works while branching out into new songs that are incredulously catchy and talented, Divide fulfils his goals of being his best album to date, and perhaps remaining as the album that defines his career.
Summary: Best songs are ‘What Do I Know’, ‘Hearts Don’t Break Around Here’ and ‘Eraser’. But, do listen to ‘Galway Girl’, ‘Supermarket Flowers’ and ‘Barcelona’.
4 and a ½ stars.