Late in October, Ed Sheeran’s long-awaited album, =, sparked many opinions—not all good. As an avid Ed Sheeran fan (some may say a Sheerie), I may be slightly biased, but certain critiques of the album are harsh, overreaching, and wrong.
I was first introduced to Ed Sheeran when he opened for a Taylor Swift concert I went to. When he started playing his songs, I thought “hey, this guy’s pretty good.” Just like he dominated his opening set, we all know he went on to dominate the music industry.
Similar to how I’ve changed since first hearing Ed Sheeran’s music, he’s also changed. With the release of “=,” I was anxious to see what, if anything, shifted with his style of music due to major life events. These changes involve getting married, having a child, and stepping back from the music world.
Playing the album for the first time, I was dancing along, and singing along, to lyrics I didn't even know yet, forgetting about everything around me. This breath of fresh air reminded me why I love Ed Sheeran’s music: it lets me escape the stresses of real life. Often, music is drowned out by autotune and technological sounds; Ed Sheeran’s music always amazes me by the talent shown in singing, songwriting, and instrument-playing.
Once I established some of my favorite tracks of the album, I looked at how it was being received. This is where things took a turn: a majority of critics left relentless remarks about the album’s release. Pitchfork describes the songs as “not songs that invite close listening,” suggesting that they lack depth.
That critic can speak for themself, but I enjoyed finding the messages in each song. Sure, these songs have a clearer message than most, but life is complicated enough for me, so I’m okay with a song having a direct meaning.
Tides is my favorite, and, for the most part, critics actually showed grace with this one. Its upbeat nature of dynamic notes and instruments put me in a good mood and, as the opening song to the album, it made me think “Ed Sheeran is back.” We needed this song in our stressful world; it acknowledges the changing aspects of life while assuring that all will be alright with the ones that you love. Cheesy? Yes. A pick-me-up song for days when I feel defeated? Also yes.
Leave your life was my second favorite song of the album; it hits me with sentimental adoration almost immediately. Ed Sheeran’s vocals are always impressive, but this song showcases a more subtle yet powerful side that was refreshing to hear. Looking into the lyrics to the song, I found another symbol of evolution in Ed Sheeran’s life: while previous albums projected a bad boy, a party boy, “=” shows someone who’s settled down into their life.
In previous albums, a lot of the content has been the same—women, love, and loss. While “=” is about love, it’s done in a different, refreshing way; it reflects his current life from a happily-ever-after perspective. It involves a mix of slower songs with the typical, upbeat, catchy song. Is this stereotypical of an album? Probably. However, I crave a new bop to play on repeat, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Harsh critiques came of a particular track,Sandman, which Ed Sheeran dedicated as a lullaby to his new daughter. It may be the sap in me, but this is an unexpectedly charming touch that illustrates Ed Sheeran’s evolution. Contrary to this positive shift, The Wall Street Journal describes “Sandman” as “so unbearably sentimental it comes across as manipulative.” Maybe it’s a matter of taste, but this song is definitely not over-sentimental. The critical few who find it as such are being heartless and rude to a touching sentiment. That’s the point of different types of music—to cater to different preferences.
The New York Times refers to the album as “the kindest, gentlest Sheeran album, which is something of a shame,” but I see it as a successful album because it’s comfortable. After all, fans listen to an artist because they like their previous work, so why would Ed Sheeran completely fix his style? It’s like the cheesiest phrase I can think of- If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
I’ll be playing this album on repeat to help me through the treachery of my homework. “=” is far from a disappointment, and to brighten your day, watch this.