Ed Sheeran is back at it. After spending the majority of 2016 in a hiatus, Sheeran finally returned to the charts with his highly anticipated third album, ÷ (pronounced Divide). Touting the already similar singles “Shape of You” and “Castle on the Hill,” Divide will undoubtedly prove to be an instant favorite among Sheeran’s fans. But I’m not sure the same thing can be said in regard to his other listeners.
As a whole, Divide wasn’t bad. The 16 different tracks featured on Sheeran’s latest album did indeed have enjoyable moments — but they seemed surprisingly commercialized. Despite his I’m-not-like-other-pop-artists reputation, Sheeran’s status as a mainstream artist was definitely obvious throughout his album.
Perhaps the reason why this album felt so mainstream pop was because it seemed to lack risks. In fact “Shape of You” may be the most un-Sheeran track of the album, which comes as a slight surprise considering its current popularity. After a long period away from the spotlight, one might expect Sheeran to return with some sort of experimentation. It only took a couple of tracks to realize that wasn’t what the British singer had in store. The opening track “Eraser” actually did a great job of setting the tone of the album, with Sheeran’s familiar mediocre rapping and heavy acoustic guitar keying the listener into what was to come.
This isn’t to say that Sheeran doesn’t do well with what he knows; there’s no denying the man has vocal talent, which is particularly shown off in “Dive” and “Perfect.” His refined ballads almost always have a romantic feel to them, even when the emotion we should feel is sadness. “Happier” showcases this almost perfectly, its soft acoustic guitar and bittersweet lyrics making it a prime candidate for Sheeran’s next radio hit.
Despite the overall familiarity, there were a couple of tracks that stood out as slightly pushing the boundaries. “Galway Girl” acted as an ode to those of Irish heritage, an intense fiddle backdrop making the song worth remembering. Likewise, tracks such as “Barcelona” and “Bibia Be Ye Ye” off the deluxe edition seemed to pay tribute to Sheeran’s time abroad during his hiatus, incorporating bopping rhythmic guitar and flute-like melodies to create a new sound.
Overall, considering the immense hype surrounding Divide, the album as a whole was underwhelming. Sure, Sheeran does well with what he knows, but he fails to wander into any foreign musical territory.