If you had asked me during 2015-2016 what my thoughts were on Ed Sheeran, you would have gotten a negative response from me, and that probably would have been unfair. After all, I would say that before that point, I enjoyed much more of his music than I hadn’t, but one song sent his likability stocks plummeting down for me – “Thinking Out Loud”. It was one of my most hated songs of 2014, not only because of his terminally dull it is, but also because of how people seemed to be buying into it.
With the hit it became, it is always the song that I think of first whenever Sheeran’s name is brought up, and that’s why I had a sort-of allergic reaction to him.
And while that was clearly his worst song before the release of this album, the following singles weren’t particularly inspiring. “Bloodstream”, “Photograph” and “Lay It All On Me” were also incredibly uninteresting too.
So when a Facebook video of Ed Sheeran popped up in my feed of him holding up a sign saying “New Music Coming Friday!!”, I can’t say I was all that enthused.
This made it all the more surprising when the first two singles filled me with a fair bit of promise.
“Shape Of You” tackles a lyrical theme that I thought I would never hear from Sheeran – going to the bar, picking up a chick and having sex with her. Yes, this is the Ed Sheeran that exists now. What made this a surprise though is that it was a completely different sound to what I was expecting as well, so I thought maybe Ed was moving in a new direction, even if it totally sounded like a Sia song.
And as a side note, with the international juggernaut that “Shape Of You” has become, even with all its omnipresence, it still hasn’t tired on me, which it really should have by now ;)
“Castle On The Hill”, while a bit more like his typical style, kind-of worked for me as well. The lyrics have a vividly nostalgic element to it, and the constant strumming going on in the background was different to the simple acoustic guitar chords that I had come to expect from Sheeran, giving me hope that I wouldn’t be subjected to another tedious ballad that commercial radio would be sure to spam.
Unfortunately though, any promise I thought was there just never existed. Put simply, I did not like this album.
We get a different variety of sounds. We get an earful of Ed Sheeran’s rap side straight up with “Eraser”. It’s not a side I’m particularly fond of, but at the very least it’s a change-up for a musician that can get very boring very quickly.
Of course there is still a fair share of boring ballads here – “Perfect”, “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here”, “How Would You Feel (Paean)” (the worst of the bunch) and “Save Myself”. There isn’t a memorable second between these four songs.
“Galway Girl” expresses his Celtic roots, which I’m perfectly fine with, and it shows his attempts at variation, but it isn’t my thing at all, and the singing/mumbling in the background towards the close of the song just sounds crap. We also get another taste of this sound later in the album through “Nancy Mulligan”, and this track is probably even worse, and I have no desire to listen to it again.
And it is still so telling that even when he tries with these different sounds, they still sounds so predictable, as he finds a way to fit them in to this simple pop formula somehow. As a result, there are no surprises whatsoever.
And I still haven’t even mentioned the worst track on the album yet. “New Man” is still unfathomably awful, and pretty much undoes years of having built up this “nice guy” persona in three minutes. It’s hard not to see him as full of shit now after having heard this song.
If I had to mention a positive, which are still here despite the overwhelming negatives, “Supermarket Flowers” is a really nice moment actually, and is quite sincere and tender.
Also, “Barcelona” was a fairly enjoyable moment too, and surprisingly only made it in as an extra cut in the Deluxe Edition of the album. It doesn’t hurt that Barcelona is one of my favourite European cities as well ;) “Bibia Be Ye Ye” is slightly catchy as well, but any joy I might get from it is snuffed out just because of how tacky it sounds.
I like to follow music criticism, and Pitchfork’s review of the album was particularly of interest to me. I didn’t agree with the review in its entirety, but I agreed with the general sentiment – He’s the kind of guy that appears humble and down-to-earth, which means that any criticism, as fair as it may be, that is levelled at him can simply be rebuffed just because of how nice he is, and how he can use this position to create a bunch of humble-brags so that he can appear morally right in every situation, when that really isn’t the case.
I mean, he’s the sort-of guy that tries to appear so nice, but then in an interview makes a humble-brag about having slept with multiple members of Taylor Swift’s posse (look it up). Good on him I suppose, but this just doesn’t mesh well with the vibe he generally tries to give off, and makes his personality incredibly grating.
Fortunately enough for him, Ed has stated that he doesn’t care about critical opinions on his music, and I believe him – after all, this album has been unavoidable and will undoubtedly be the biggest album of 2017 worldwide. The amount of streams and sales this is racking up is staggering, and just looking at the charts, especially the UK Charts, I’m almost certain how well every single track on this album is doing is unprecedented (ahem, http://www.officialcharts.com/charts/singles-chart/20170310/7501/).
But then again, this kind of indifference towards critical opinion and ways to improve his music will just mean that he will continue churning out the same crap.
At the very least, I liked the artwork a little.
All in all, I’m happy to have that album in my rear-vision mirror now, and maybe I’ll be able to enjoy Ed’s next album more. I won’t be holding my breath though.
FAV TRACKS: CASTLE ON THE HILL, SHAPE OF YOU, SUPERMARKET FLOWERS, BARCELONA
LEAST FAV TRACK: NEW MAN