Review: Divide by Ed Sheeran

Alison Jackson, Assistant Copy Editor

If you would have told me one year ago that in several months, everyone—including myself—would enjoy listening to Irish folk music, I definitely would not have believed you whatsoever. However, this was before March 2017, when Ed Sheeran released Divide, his third studio album that seamlessly meshes poppy, upbeat modern harmonies with narratives from his heritage, among other surprising genre combinations.

Sheeran remarkably creates cohesion between sappy (but admittedly admirable) love ballads (“Perfect,” “Hearts Don’t break Around Here”), humorous quips (“New Man”), and heartfelt melodies (“Supermarket Flowers,” “Dive”). The raw, sincere lyrics and overall timeless sound of Sheeran’s work is a breath of fresh air in an industry in which depthless subject matters and mindless repetition have become the status quo.

However, it was inevitable that the album would include at least one borderline generic tune (namely “Shape of You”); a single seeming to act merely as a gateway to radio play for the rest of the album (with an incredibly catchy beat, nonetheless). “Shape of You,” the lead single of Divide and undeniably the most popular track off of the album, was significantly shallower in topic compared to the other romance-focused songs off of the album (for example, “How Would You Feel (Paean)”), although its impressive number of Spotify streams—nearly 1.5 billion—speaks for itself.

Other tracks from Divide that have attained success comparable to “Shape of You” include “Castle on the Hill,” where Sheeran evokes bittersweet nostalgia in a retelling of his adolescence (singing, “I miss the way you make me feel”),  and “Perfect,” a beautiful serenade second in romanticism only to Sheeran’s 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud.” The album has its fair share of underrated tracks as well, including the Spanish-infused, easygoing “Barcelona,” and the optimistic “What Do I Know?,” in which Sheeran sings in a both sarcastic and hopeful tone, “Love could change the world in a moment, but what do I know?”

Sheeran, a two-time Grammy winner, is no stranger to success, acquiring commercial renown with “The A Team” in 2011, and creating numerous songs that have earned spots on the Billboard Hot 100 chart since. Divide represents personal growth for Sheeran, as it illustrates his channeling of melancholic tones from his first studio album, Plus (+), in songs such as “Happier” and “Save Myself,” while merging the playful hip-hop nature of its successor, Multiply (x), that can be heard in “Eraser.” Sheeran additionally manages to brings an entirely new sound to his most recent album with the Irish folk tunes “Galway Girl” and “Nancy Mulligan.”

 Sheeran seems to be adhering less and less to the conventionalities of pop music with each consecutive album release, yet growing massively in following as he does so—an incredible feat. Divide is the culmination—and a triumphant one, at that—of Sheeran’s musical experimentation throughout his career in which he has taken countless risks; risks that have been met with widespread praise. Even those who did not particularly enjoy Sheeran’s two previous albums are bound to find at least one track that they enjoy due to the phenomenal categorical diversity present in Divide.