“Divide” debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 upon it’s release. (Photo courtesy of Asylum Records)
The red-headed, mid-twenties music icon with the humble, awkward persona and English roots had been dodging the public eye for over a year after taking a social media hiatus. An off blue square with a hap-hazard, painted black symbol at center and a short public statement was all it took.
To the joy of an adoring fan-base, Ed Sheeran, the singer-songwriter, guitarist and sometimes rapper, was making his return to the music scene. “Divide” debuted at Number 1 on Billboard 200 charts in the U.S., which is the second of Sheeran’s three full-length studio albums to do so. Sheeran also managed to sell over a half of a million copies in just the U.S. and UK during the first week of sale, outdoing his previous smash-hit album from 2014, “Multiply,” by a shocking total of approximately 164,000 albums. All the way down to another album title sharing its name with a common mathematical function, Sheeran proves once again that his typical formula, a spread of heartwarming ballads, earworm pop tunes and clever rap and guitar stylings, is what sells records; this time around, he added a bit of Celtic flare from his Irish roots for this album. There is a reason Sheeran’s album is still selling thousands of copies weeks out.
The twelve song, approximately 46 minute, “Divide” is another fit of brilliance by the English songwriter. The album picks up with a series of hearty and varied tunes. Terrific pacing and strong lyricism kick off the album, and Sheeran’s cleverness and emotion do not seem to fade at any point. The album flows well and in similar fashion to how Sheeran’s previous albums have, transitioning from quick jams and pop earworms to the slow, soul driven ballads and power-ballads. The energy of the album seems to be a series of peaks and valleys, but the standard level of craftsmanship in the body of work never finds a true low-point.
In tunes like “Eraser” and “What Do I Know?” the audience is lead through Sheeran’s struggles with the fame and with the materialism pushed in media and life at present date. Tracks seven, eight and nine seem to flow together as one story, culminating around the flow of emotions surrounding a bad breakup. From the melancholy of seeing the significant other you lost happy with someone else in “Happier” to the resentment and jealousy at the fore in “New Man” the arch is driven and devastating. Hope comes in to break the sadness and anger in the beautiful and soft form of new love in “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here.”
Sheeran’s typically beautiful softer ballads can be found in “How Would You Feel” and “Perfect,” whereas the jam-worthy pop tunes are also sprinkled in with hit single “Shape of You” or “Galway Girl” which mixes rap, rock and Celtic background themes to create an awesome song for play at a party. Yet, these Sheeran staples can very easily be overlooked for two incredibly strong pieces that have not been getting as much radio play: “Dive,” a power-ballad dripping with desperation, and “Castle on a Hill,” the nostalgia riddled glimpse at childhood memories and age-old friends.
Throughout the album are themes of love, heartbreak, and hope. Sheeran looks back on a quiet past life of rebellious, awkward youth and the struggles of fame. Each and every one of the 12 songs have a place on the record. They are varied in style, length and story, yet all pull at the heart-strings. The beauty of Sheeran’s music is not only in cleverness and interesting new takes on old stylings. It is Sheeran’s ability to vividly paint the simple moments of everyday life as the emotional epics that they truly are to each and every one of us. Relatability is where Sheeran shines. Also, the four extra songs on the Deluxe Edition are worth the three extra dollars.
Ed Sheeran’s “Divide” was no vast turnaround for this captivating singer-songwriter as it was quite the opposite. Sheeran’s hiatus changed nothing; he is still crafting awe-inspiring chart-toppers.
Final Grade: A+