By Tanner Bidish, Staff Writer
Key Tracks: “Shape of You,” “New Man,” “Supermarket Flowers”
From independent EPs to three sold-out shows at London’s Wembley Stadium, Ed Sheeran has done a lot. In 2011, + made Sheeran’s debut, and in 2014, x solidified his chart success. The third installment in his catalog – which is surprisingly devoid of math rock – is ÷. Just in case you don’t get it the third time around, the album art has taken the liberty of spelling out for you – “D I V I D E.” Fittingly, Ed’s latest is as redundant as his titling scheme.
The new record is the weakest work from Sheeran to date. It feels like Ed only has three stories in this repertoire: songs about home, ballads about girls and pop jams about girls. If you have any favorites in those categories from his early discography, rest assured that new entries will not impress you. ÷ is largely the same old, with the only flux being between moments of mediocrity and cringe-worthiness. Throughout there are moments of honestly careless production. Notably are the inappropriately placed harmonies in the album opener, “Eraser,” or more so, the straight panting in “Barcelona.” Some tracks show no control, like “Dive,” where Sheeran uses his full belt at the break of the first chorus. He gives himself nowhere to expand from there and goes back to it in each producing chorus. The track humbles the momentum that this album just can’t seem to build.
There are a few exceptions; The single, “Shape of You,” is a catchy radio bop. It’s easy to dance to, and wears the production stylings better than any other track on the album. “New Man” has some funny lines; “Still lookin’ at your Instagram and I’ll be creepin’ a lil’ / I’ll be tryin’ not to double tap, from way back / ‘Cause I know that’s where the trouble’s at.”
“Supermarket Flowers” is an oddity, where balladic tones don’t come too heavy handed, but sincere as intended.
The simple charm and honesty from early works like Loose Change, No. 5 Collaborations, or even +, is nowhere to be found. Sheeran’s latest effort is drowning in production and devoid of creativity. His current trajectory puts him on the path of a best-heard-live artist, if only for the novelty of seeing him perform his entire set alone with his loop pedal. This record fails to carry the emotional weight of Ed Sheeran’s older work. A new direction is understandable, but ÷ doesn’t have any direction to speak of.