Mark Twain, the greatest American writer of all time, said there were only three certainties in life: death, taxes, and every album released by Ed Sheeran would debut at number one. I may have exaggerated this famous quote slightly but the sentiment still stands: Ed Sheeran is a certainty whether you like him or not.
If there was a hierarchy of contemporary popstars; Sheeran would be crowned King of Hitsland, with Adele and Beyoncé serving him endless bowls of crisps and running his morning bubble bath (I assume that is the lifestyle of a reigning icon). Sheeran has sold over 150 million records worldwide, his last tour was the highest-grossing tour in musical history, surpassing both U2 and his mentor Elton John, and he also received a scar on his face from being mock knighted by Princess Beatrice with an actual sword. The events of Sheeran’s trajectory are outlandishly improbable in all of the best ways possible.
There is a common anomaly that occurs when something or someone becomes part of the mainstream consciousness: the need to tear them down. Casualties of this phenomenon include Coldplay, Bono, and avocados. Sheeran has felt the wrath of these pockets of rebelliousness ever since the release of + (Plus) in 2011. Many called the unassuming singer-songwriter “boring” and “placid.” I even have to admit that when I heard Equals debut single Bad Habits had been knocked off the top spot after ten long weeks, I thought to myself “finally, the Kind is dead.” Then when I realised it had been overtaken by Sheeran’s second single Shivers, I thought to myself “the King is very much alive.”
There is no doubt in my mind that Sheeran is one talented individual. He is gifted lyrically, musically, and empathetically. I think my issue with Sheeran is he is not one to take chances; he easily pulls on our heartstrings because he knows that it is a formula that works. Songs such as First Times, The Joker and the Queen, and Love in Slow Motion are all strategically engineered to fit perfectly into a Richard Curtis film; preferably the last scene where the two upper-class love-struck individuals realise they can have it all and frolic hand-in-hand into the distance.
The acoustic ballad First Times includes the lines “The greatest thing that I have achieved / Was four little words, down on one knee / You said ‘Darling, are you jokin?’ and I just said ‘Please’”. This romantic gesture that’s smothered with acoustic guitars and piano, dares us to not feel emotional in our response. The Joker and the Queen features the simple metaphor of cards played over a humble piano pattern and mournful string section. Lyrics for this future wedding song include “And I know you could fall for a thousand kings / And hearts that would give you a diamond ring / When I fold, you see the best in me / The joker and the queen.” Sheeran effortlessly creates love songs for millions who sit patiently waiting.
Sheeran is a wordsmith, a poet. He is ultimately a little too confident in his descriptions of love and is at times overzealous. His songs create a rendering where every single line is accounted for, leaving no room for interpretation. Where Noel Gallagher beautifully sums up what love is in one sentence “My eyes have always followed you around the room” on If I Had a Gun..., Sheeran is gregarious to the point where his intended meaning feels empty. It is a case of rinse and repeat for the ballads that feature on this album. Thankfully, Sheeran has something else up his sleeve.
Bad Habits is the perfect first single. With its welcoming nods to Bronski Beat and The Weekend and its trance-like chorus; Sheeran is going in a direction that is aching to be relevant, aching to be contemporary. It is the stand-out track on Equals that showcases a different side to the quiet troubadour. His excitement regarding the track is even evident in his vocal performance with his hushed tones and high falsetto flavours. Shivers places the listener amongst a globe of pulsating violins and catchy melodies; the enigmatic R&B flow carries you throughout the runtime. Sheeran is at his best on the album when he shows off his stirring vocal control and bombastic melodies.
2Step is classic Sheeran; he told Apple music that the song is him at thirty years old trying to sound like the eighteen year old version of himself. It makes us realise why the world fell in love with him: he was unique, he was relentless. Stop the Rain features a thick bass that transmits the vengeful song and adds to Sheeran’s animalistic vocals. Be Right Now closes out the album with a trance-like backing that features the singer at his most otherworldly.
This collection of soulful songs make you yearn for an Equals album that emits the predictable love songs and includes more of Sheeran’s fun, artistic choices. But, can you imagine an Ed Sheeran album without a love song? No, me neither. His fans would burn the whole place down.