Album review: “=” by Ed Sheeran

It started with “+”, then “x”, and then there was “÷” … finally, the equation is complete with “=”!

One of the first album reviews I made on this blog was for 2017’s “÷”. Ed Sheeran started out in 2012 at the very start of his twenties with an indie-style that focused on dark issues such as drug abuse, alcoholism, and crippling loneliness. By his next album release in 2014, his career completely exploded as he moved into pop with now just a hint of indie. His style really changed in that his outlook became much more positive and uplifting, while still remaining humble with some room for cynicism. “x” captured his restless spirit and honest reaction to instant fame. “÷” was a very similar album, maybe even a bit more pop — a nice balance of ballads and bangers, harsh realities and beautiful fantasies, petty digs and wise introspection.

“=” follows a similar style, now focusing on change, as the album artwork presents butterfly wings. Now 30, married with a newborn daughter, this is certainly a brand new life phase for Ed. (His wife is a childhood friend named “Cherry” — so cute.) In the description, Ed himself makes a specific request for his fans — to please listen to the album in order, from track 1 to 14, when you hear it for the first time. I admire this demand, as I strongly feel that a good album should tell a story from beginning to end. I agree that the first time you hear a record, it should be played as a whole — no skipping tracks, or fast-forwarding, or shuffling until you’ve already heard its entirety once.

I also appreciate that Ed explains the specific meanings behind each song that he wrote. While I believe listeners should create their own personal meanings to songs, it’s always intriguing to know exactly what was going through the singer’s head during the composing process.

1. Tides

While “x” started off on a soft note, I like how Ed followed “÷’s” path in starting off strong and heavy. “Tides” captures you into the album and makes you excited to hear more. It’s a great way to set up the tone for the rest of the record, which revolves around change and growth. I also like how it’s very straightforward, like, “I’m a father now, this and this has happened to me, etc.” as if I’m catching up with an old friend.

2. Shivers

Ed’s music is always full of depth, but I still appreciate songs like this that are simply light-hearted and fun. Hey, just because he is a husband and dad now, doesn’t mean he’s automatically boring. This is a love song that really captures the excitement of a new connection.

3. First Times

Such a sweet and lovely ballad about all the first moments you experience with the one you love. I learned — Ed was drunk, high, and exhausted when he recorded this… “which is why it’s gentle and delicate. Because I was almost gone.” His exact words. Okay. Hahaha.

4. Bad Habits

Very similar to “Shivers.” Not very wholesome, as you can guess by the title, but somehow everything he sings has this slight wholesome tone to it. I imagine this is about partying and dancing, and regrets… the “good” kind of regrets… if there is such a thing…

5. Overpass Grafiti

This is a breakup track that was apparently written years ago about a prior breakup. It was supposed to be sad and slow, but the final version came out fast-paced, giving it this hopeful and optimistic spin. I really like this — honest disappointment without any anger or pettiness. Let’s make all breakups feel as good as this song does!

6. The Joker and The Queen

This acoustic, piano-based ballad has a sweet nostalgic tone. I love this song yet don’t have much to say about it because I feel that it speaks for itself!

7. Leave Your Life

The lyrics discuss the changes in life — everything from traveling to another country, to dying and traveling into the afterlife. You always stay with your loved ones, in spirit and heart. Even when someone you love is gone, they’re never really gone. So sweet.

8. Collide

This is another sweet song in which Ed lists off all of the highlights of his relationship with Cherry. This one does not necessarily stand out to me, but I do say that it’s heartfelt and warming.

9. 2step

I love the beat to this song. Ed doesn’t “rap” as much on this album as his prior work, but he’s back at it in this track. I’m so glad this one made the cut, it carries a lot of weight.

10. Stop the Rain

This is about riding out the storm during hard times, trusting that things will work out in the end and justice will be served, when you’re going through difficult times and dealing with unfair people.

11. Love in Slow Motion

Very important message here, to slow down and take a step back from the rat race, to appreciate the ones you love and live in the now. Ed wrote this about moving away from the city and trading nights out with friends for cozy nights in with his wife and family.

12. Visiting Hours

Ed wrote this for his friend Michael who recently passed away. We can all relate to grieving the loss of a loved one. “I wish Heaven had visiting hours” he sings, for all of those times you want to see that person, even just for a moment, and catch up with them. I can really relate to this song on a personal level, in a slightly different way. It makes me think of my mom who is in an assisted living home, which literally does have visiting hours. And she is still here, but part of her is gone, and even being able to see her for a little bit at a time somehow feels like a gift to me. To be in her presence is such a blessing, even though it is so horribly unfortunate that a piece of her is missing.

13. Sandman

This is a beautiful song to follow the devastating “Visiting Hours,” and now I really see why Ed demands listening to the album in order. Following grief, comes new life. This is a lullaby for his daughter — not too slow or soft though — it’s imaginative, it’s an exciting yet calming adventure, exploring the dream-world. It’s super cute and one of my favorites on this record.

14. Be Right Now

Wonderful conclusion to wrap it all up. In times of change and uncertainly, the best thing you can do is embrace the current moment. Ed says this one was deliberately written and recorded as a finale track — I admire his sense of purpose and meaning.

Overall… I really, really enjoyed this album. I have to admit that I was weary at first. Four years since his last full album, I was thinking… maybe I’m kind of over Ed Sheeran, maybe he’s overexposed and redundant at this point… and yet now I am reminded why I adore him so dearly.

He kept his trademark style while upgrading into something so much more mature and positive. There’s no pettiness here, no victim-mentality, and no “poor me” cries. It shows that he’s hopeful towards the future, but not anxious. There’s no more songs about partying and binge drinking, with the exception of “Bad Habits” — which is still an awesome track. It’s so clear that his priorities have changed and that he’s truly grown up. I am so proud of Ed, as if he’s my big brother or my close friend.

Ed disclosed that this album was originally supposed to be all acoustic. I’m thankful he took the electronic route, because I think he does bangers really well, but perhaps next year or so it would be lovely to hear an all-acoustic record. I believe that after four symbol-titled albums, Ed plans to move into a new theme — can’t wait to see what is next for him.


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