At the end of 2015, Ed Sheeran posted this on his Instagram profile and across social media.
He was serious about that, and disappeared from the world for a year, living his life and making “the best thing I have made thus far”.
At the beginning of 2017, Sheeran reemerged into the world and announced two new singles in January. Both turned out to be a part of his third studio album, the name of which was soon revealed to be ‘Divide’ after a heavy light blue redesign of Ed’s social media image from the dark green associated with his old X (Multiply). The two singles released – Shape of You and Castle on the Hill – received inevitably enormous success, and the March 3rd release date for the full album became strongly anticipated. Rarely does the release of a music album seem like this much of an event, and there was indeed a payoff, with Spotify UK statistics revealing that all 16 tracks have top 16 spots on their most listened to list.
This isn’t bias. Ed Sheeran’s third album boasts some of his finest work to date, and his own claim of it being the best thing he’s ever made cannot be considered incorrect. Sheeran’s musical diversity shines in Divide more than it has in Plus or Multiply, and he deserves praise for that.
I’ve never reviewed a music album before,but there’s a first for everything. I listened to the whole album at once (except Castle on the Hill and Shape of You obviously), and it made me do something amazing. It made me smile. When music is able to do that, it’s magical, and something Sheeran’s always been able to do with his music is have it resonate his own persona, opinion and talents without explicitly doing so. Divide’s charm is in its ability to make you laugh, cry, reflect and also, strangely, learn.
There isn’t a single ‘bad’ song the album (even though some can be improved) and all of them have their own artistic flair. The ‘live in the moment’ style of Barcelona is accompanied by the Irish-influenced Galway Girl and Nancy Mullingam and the tear-inducing Supermarket Flowers, and Perfect is basically the new Thinking Out Loud. Castle On the Hill and What Do I Know?’s innocent natures are contrasted by the passionate expression that is Dive and the raw, rough Eraser. There’s a song for everyone on this album, and anyone that loves Ed Sheeran would love it.
That being said, however, Divide hasn’t received all positive responses, and the reason for this is actually justified. Divide may be moving, diverse and just brilliant, but its biggest flaw lies in its themes. That may seem strange, but it is immediately noticeable how close almost all singles on the album can be compared to specific tracks from Plus, Multiply, or even both.
I already mentioned that Perfect can be seen as the new Thinking Out Loud. While the song itself can be described simply by its name, it is a song about finding a person for a lifetime, which is also what Thinking Out Loud was about.
It isn’t unusual for artists to have a motif in their music, but it’s the degree to which it exists in Divide that could put a few people off. The album’s opener, Eraser, is basically You Need Me, I Don’t Need You, a few years later. Supermarket Flowers is about Sheeran’s late mother and Afire Love from Multiply is about a woman he loved that passed away. Castle On the Hill has the same nostalgic vibes as Photograph, New Man is Don’t without being directed specifically at Ellie Goulding and Shape of You and Sing share the same purpose. The biggest critique that arises from this is that Ed follows a sort of formula when crafting his music, and critics have used this to their advantage.
As harsh as that may seem towards Sheeran, his ‘formula’ – if there even is one, for he could just be writing whatever comes to his mind and he can receive similar thoughts on different occasions – works. His success can be reflected by that Spotify list and the fact that there was so much build-up surrounding his third album that it felt like something special. And it was. While Plus and Multiply have singles that I most certainly do not like (pointing at Grade 8 and Take It Back), Divide does not follow that streak, with every song (although not perfect) having something good to boast. All criticisms of formula or repetition aside, I would definitely give the album a full rating.
On a scale where M is the lowest, and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating: