When the lead singles off Divide came out, I was torn. I’m a huge Ed fan, but there was a glossy layer here that I did not expect. Castle On The Hill was lyrically beautiful, with doses of wonderful nostalgia, but was overproduced. Shape of You was the worse offender, with generic pop production and basic lyrics that I thought Ed to be better than. It is with quite some trepidation that I waited for Divide to come out. And while the album is far from his strongest work – the shadow of commercialized pop looms heavy – there are quite a few memorable songs on here that satiates the Ed fanboy in me.
Much of the album is Ed Sheeran at his sappy best – or worst, depending on how you feel about it – with tracks like Perfect and How Would You Feel (Paean) being unabashedly saccharine. These are songs that you cannot help but give in to when you’re the right kind of mood – it’s pretty much a given that Perfect is going to play at weddings everywhere, after Ed’s very own Thinking Out Loud. But you can’t help but feel like you’ve heard these songs before from him; there’s a certain spark missing, the one that you felt when you first heard his music. The production has gotten safer, and the lyrics a tad more pedestrian. I’ll certainly be listening to these songs quite a bit, but I doubt they have the memorability of some of his earlier work.
Dive and Happier, for example, are moving songs and personal favourites that have echoes of some of Ed’s best songs. The former has Ed imploring the woman of his affections to be true to her words; he’s falling for her, but is unsure if he should be. The hook makes for a perfect sing-along, and the intensity with which he sings them stirs up emotions locked away. The latter, meanwhile, is a melancholy recollection of nights at the bar and happiness from times past, on a song that speaks to all the cracks in all of us. They’re passionate, emotional songs – but it lacks the visceral sadness that came with listening to Give Me Love or Photograph for the first time.
It’s also at this point that you realize that Ed is trying to appeal to every part of his fanbase, albeit unevenly. Tracks like Galway Girl, New Man and Nancy Mulligan are catchy and a lot of fun, and represent the range of Ed’s influences, from his Irish roots to disses worthy of a modern rap track – unfortunately, they are rather incongruous with the rest of the album, worsened by the track sequencing.
Ed Sheeran has clearly stuck to a formula with Divide – there isn’t much here that Ed hasn’t done before, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the new music isn’t worthy of your time. Even the biggest detractors will find a couple of songs here more than enjoyable; and for a fan like me, there are enough great songs here to keep me satisfied till the next album cycle.
I live-tweeted my first listen of the album. Check it out: