Ed Sheeran, besides giving below-average-looking dudes a chance to get laid, is famous for making sweet, acoustic pop music. His first two albums “+” and “x” were huge commercial hits, and he snagged two Grammys for the song “Thinking Out Loud.”
“Divide” was released on March 3. The only edition available on streaming services was the deluxe version, spanning 16 songs and clocking in at nearly an hour. This follows the trend of “Views” and “Starboy” as pop stars put out as many songs as possible. They understand streaming makes almost no money and that their fans will repeatedly listen to whatever they release on a loop. To hell with concise and cohesive albums.
After two albums of his signature coffee-shop-open-mic-night aesthetic with the occasional watery guitar solo, Sheeran seems to have hit a dead end. On “Divide,” he sifts through an identity crisis, venturing into several different directions.
“Shape of You” follows in the wave of tropical dance hall hits. First, it was “Work” by Rihanna, then it was “One Dance” by Drake, then it was “Don’t Wanna Know” by Maroon 5, and now “Shape of You,” each more soulless than the last.
“Castle on the Hill” follows in the thumping sentimentality of Mumford and Sons. The listener is cattle-prodded down memory lane by raucous vocals and forceful strumming, and nostalgia is taken hostage like the “Power Rangers” reboot or the “Captain Underpants” movie adaption.
He even dips his toes into hip-hop. He has about as much rap prowess as one would expect from a chubby ginger with a lazy eye. “I think that money is the root of all evil and fame is hell/Relationships, and hearts you fixed, they break as well” he spits on “Eraser.”
The music is strongest when he sticks to his guns. “Dive” and “How Would You Feel?” are solid pop rock ballads.
His lyrics contain many juvenile generalizations. “Everybody’s talkin’ ‘bout exponential growth/And the stock market crashing in their portfolios/While I’ll be sitting here with a song I wrote/Sing, love could change the world in a moment,” he sings on “What do I know?” What do you know, Ed?
Ed Sheeran is the personification of American fetishization of British people and western European culture in general. I imagine teens in Iowa trembling with Cockney captivation as Ed sings, “She played the fiddle in an Irish band/But she fell in love with an English man/Kissed her on the neck as I took her by the hand/Said, baby I just want to dance” over an almost parodic Celtic jig on “Galway Girl.” God save the Queen.
The lyrics are just a MadLib of devised couplets, pre-packaged for listeners to fast track into tweets. The marketing does itself really. “Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms/Barefoot on the grass, listening to our favorite song” he promises on “Perfect.” Is there anything more sickly saccharine than the emotionally manipulative “Supermarket Flowers” when he sings “So I’ll sing Hallelujah/You were an angel in the shape of my mum”?
The romantic content is a manufactured warm blanket coercing young girls into believing their worth as a person depends on the validation of a man, so they continue to buy Ed Sheeran posters and concert tickets. “Divide” is the sort of generic pandering formulated in order to resonate with so many people that it doesn’t really resonate with anyone.