An artist with over seventy-five-and-a-half million monthly Spotify listeners needs no introduction, though Ed Sheeran is still a name to be celebrated. In the space of twelve years, since his debut album dropped, Ed has completely reshaped the landscape of singer-songwriter music, as well as the mainstream pop chart as a whole. His past few releases have seen a shift further into the pop sphere, but with Autumn Variations – his second record this year – he has removed the external trappings to focus on the heart of his music; the lyricism.
Magical sets the scene for this latest offering, beginning with a soft drum beat and calming acoustic guitar. Its stripped-back sound continues as more instruments enter the frame, Ed’s voice sitting comfortably in the mix, never straining above a relaxed tone. Followup England takes a more upbeat approach, with cut-up guitar samples and a slow build to the second chorus. Lyrically, its a love-letter to the country as a whole, Ed everything from green fields you can get lost in to fairy lights on buildings being powered by wind turbines. It’s a subtle tribute to where he is from, and it is instantly relatable to any one living in the UK. Amazing is the first true powerful song, the soft-rock instrumental backing Ed’s lyrics on struggling with what could be depression, or simply a strong feeling of anxiety. It has an upbeat aesthetic despite the subject matter, and marks one of the album’s first highlight.
On Blue, Ed embraces his old folk counterpart Bon Iver, reaching into his falsetto, accompanied by a single acoustic guitar and a subdued string quartet. That’s On Me sees Ed return to his rapping, his flow simple but fitting for the instrumental. The build to the bridge is incredibly satisfying, and lyrically, the semi-optimistic outlook comes across as endearing rather than awkward. Spring is another folky, Glen Campbell-esc tune that looks at the dark side of the colder seasons, and uses spring as a metaphor for the hope that we must look to in bad times. It’s not a unique concept, but Ed does it masterfully. Closer Head > Heels melds drum machine with piano, harmonies with subtle strings, and provides a fittingly slow-burning end to the album.
Autumn Variations is a warm hug of a record, confiding in the listener whilst telling them that everything works out in the end. Stylistically as a whole it is somewhere between a throwback and modern interpretation of how Ed began his career. It’s a very personal addition to Sheehan’s back catalogue, on par with the last release, and presents a trend towards more heart-felt songwriting, something which some have sorely missed from his work. It is a triumph, and a solid addition to his collection.
Writer and Musician, Ryan Bulbeck has been published with a number of online publications, and has worked with a myriad of great artists, both as a performer, and as a producer. His most recent band The 295 are still active, playing shows around the UK.