I had always enjoyed Ed Sheeran’s radio hits, such as “Thinking Out Loud” and “Photograph,” but I never really took the time to sit down and listen to any of his studio albums. However, the hype surrounding his latest release, Divide, was too much to ignore, so while stuck in traffic for over two hours on Wednesday, I took the time to listen to the album, and I’m very glad I did.
I’ll start off by saying that the first single, “The Shape of You,” didn’t do much for me; I just can’t buy ginger-bearded Sheeran as a bar-hopping lothario constantly getting involved in one-night stands. Sonically, I also found the song too mechanical and generic, even after his admittedly stunning one-man Grammy performance of the song. The song that really caught my attention was the second single, “Castle on the Hill,” a rumbling nostalgic ballad whose cinematic lyrics recall Bruce Springsteen at his best, the kind where you can close your eyes and imagine every image sung unfolding in your head. In many ways, it may be the best song Sheeran has written to date.
Listening to Divide in full turned out to be just as rewarding an experience: Divide is a mature, accessible, brilliantly written and produced record with lots of great songs and Sheeran fully developing into his own personality as an artist. He is a storyteller in the vein of the aforementioned Springsteen as well as lesser known names like Richard Thompson and Frank Turner, with a uniquely British wit and sensibility all his own. This comes out best on the irresistibly catchy “Galway Girl,” a much more accessible and believable love story than “Shape of You,” with more great storytelling details that put Sheeran in a class of his own among today’s (few) successful singer-songwriters.
I’m not going to go through the whole record, but one song that deserves special attention is “Dive,” Sheeran’s best song to date: a powerful, mature and perfect song about the fear of falling in love expressed perfectly, with Sheeran’s best vocal performance to date. Other highlights include the rather sweet “What Do I Know?,” a cheery paean to the power of art, and the aching “Supermarket Flowers,” a touching tribute to Sheeran’s dearly departed mother that will bring a tear to your eye. From start to finish, Dive is an immensely enjoyable record, and proof that if he keeps it up, Sheeran will be around for years to come.
Divide is available through Atlantic Records wherever cds and vinyl are sold, as well as all major streaming services. Always support the artists (unless it’s Nickelback).