Some numbers about your friend and mine, Ed Sheeran. By the time he signed a record deal at the age of 19, the Suffolk singer had already self-released three albums and six EPs. His debut album, ‘+’, unexpectedly shifted over a million copies in 2011. ‘Shape Of You’, a lead single from third studio album ‘÷’, was streamed 6,868,642 times on Spotify in a just one week. He’s popular, you know?
This hasn’t always resulted in positive reviews, though Ed’s way past caring about that. He recently told The Guardian: “I’m at the point where even if I get a one-star review for every album I released for the rest of my life, I’ll still be able to play music.” Luckily there’s no reason to test the theory. The latest Ed Sheeran album (his return after a three-year hiatus/gap yah) is a collection that, somehow, adheres to his perfect pop template… while also being quietly weird.
‘Galway Girl’ is a stomping Irish hip-hop jig that recounts dancing a merry ceilidh with the girl of your dreams while Van Morrison parps away in the background. It’s all too seldom you can write that kind of sentence about an A-list artist who hangs out with Taylor Swift and has penned tunes for the likes of Justin Bieber and The Weeknd. ‘New Man’ is a crisp, Latin-themed R&B number that makes fun of an ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend who has a bleached bumhole (we’re not entirely sure how Ed knows this). ‘Eraser’ is an acoustic rap banger on which Sheeran manages to moan about superstardom (“money is the root of all evil and fame is hell”) without sounding like a right bloody berk.
There’s nothing here with the incongruous sex appeal of ‘Sing’, everyman Ed’s saucy 2014 collaboration with Pharrell Williams, and the rap verses on ‘Eraser’ indicate Suffolk’s finest has less than wicked flow. But his latest album is as likeable as he seems in interviews: assured but unassuming and sometimes hard to fathom. There’s probably a mathematical formula to Ed Sheeran’s success, but he’s the only one who can crunch the numbers.