Grace Whitman ’22
Ed Sheeran’s album “=” was released on Oct. 29 and showcases a new chapter in the British singer’s life. Sheeran has always been a poetic storyteller, and this album clearly shows how he has matured as a person.
Amid COVID-19, his wife Cherry Seaborn gave birth to their daughter Lyra and the new father stepped away from music and the spotlight for over a year. He also went dark on social media. While the emotional growth he experienced during this time is certainly evident on “=,” his musical growth is not as clear. Indeed, the record’s tracks consistently have a predictable sound.
“=” is Sheeran’s fourth album with a mathematical symbol as a title, following “+,” “x,” and “÷”. With themes of marriage and parenthood consistent throughout, one may interpret the title “=” to be a nod to how Sheeran feels content and at peace with the place he is at in his life.
The album starts with a reflective song, “Tides,” on which Sheeran shares how his perspective on life has changed. He sings, “I have grown up, I am a father now/Everything has changed but I am still the same somehow.” With the use of tides as a metaphor for the changes that have occurred in his life, this song sets the tone for the rest of the album and would be the perfect song to open up a stadium concert.
The singles from the album are “Bad Habits,” “Shivers,” and “Visiting Hours.” “Bad Habits” is one of the most popular songs on the radio right now, but its sound is extremely predictable and seems to have been meticulously crafted to be a radio song. Notably, with regard to both the lyrical content and sound of the song, “Shivers” is very similar to “Bad Habits,” evidencing Sheeran’s lack of musical growth on “=.”
Nonetheless, Sheeran is still arguably one of the greatest songwriters of the generation. Some of his most beloved songs are emotional ballads that are not released solely for radio streams. For instance, “Visiting Hours,” a tearjerker like “Supermarket Flowers” from his album “÷,” was written as a way to grieve after the death of his close musical mentor Michael Gudinski. The built harmony within the song reveals the magnitude of pain Sheeran experienced in the aftermath of Gudinski’s death and the lyrics express his desperate wish for heaven to have visiting hours.
Other notable tracks off the album include “Overpass Graffiti,” a song about an old love that, like graffiti, will never fade, and “2step,” a hip-hop track similar to several songs from his No.6 Collaboration Project that includes several rap verses.
Overall, throughout “=,” Sheeran reflects on becoming a husband and a father and experiencing loss. As made apparent through both his lyrics and the emotion conveyed through his voice, this album is an altogether cohesive project that gives fans a deeper glimpse into Sheeran’s life.