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ED SHEERAN - DIVIDE: REVIEW


ED SHEERAN

Divide (Warner)

Hey, it won't be me telling him. And frankly why would a man who has sold multi-million albums, recently had the top three songs on the Australian chart at the same time (a feat achieved by only the Beatles and, um, Karise Eden) and can fill a stadium with the promise of nothing more than him and a guitar, care anyway?

But was it really the best idea to open this new album with some rapping? His own rapping. Again.

Yes, Ed Sheeran the music fan is a broad church, as the extended version of this album - complete with a fiddle-and-stomping take on ye olde folk song, set "down by the Wexford border" - makes very clear. And his hip hop love is true and deep.

But while few would argue with his knack for both pop and balladry, I don't think anyone would call Sheeran a compelling spitter-of-rhymes, and beginning with the slightly queasy delivery of Eraser feels less than optimum.

(That said, The Man, from 2014's X had a similar effect on me and that album's sales went past six million a while back so, you know, rap on Ed, rap on.)

In any case the "state of play in my life" feel of Eraser, does establish the detailed personal nature of a couple of the songs here, a direction predicted by the pre-album single, Castle On The Hill (one of three chart toppers from this record already) which draws from childhood memories.

Yep, having had a year off to disconnect from not just social media but the wider Ed-focused world, and to connect properly with his girlfriend and a non-business life, Sheeran has been doing some introspection.

Lessons learned? The past matters even more if you don't let it disappear; he's got a woman who saves him from himself; dad may have been right to stay away from politics in his songs but he can't help wondering about how "everyone's talking about expenditure growth … but what do I know?".

Castle On The Hill serves as another marker, unofficially the U2 song on Divide (or ÷ as it technically should be written). And why not a U2 song if you can also have a Paul Simon in Soweto moment in the bright and bouncy Bibia Be Ye Ye, and another dip into the classic era Elton John bag of tricks in How Would You Feel (Paean)? (which comes with more than an echo of Sheeran's own Thinking Out Loud)?

There is after all the sangria-and-sun acoustic energy of Barcelona, the trad Irish-meets-R&B Galway Girl, the more straightforward Blackstreet R&B of New Man (complete with reminder that he will "keep it real", with a slight Jamaican lilt to the rap) and, speaking of the Caribbean, the Rihanna-ready loose-limbs of Shape Of You.

This is long before you get to Nancy Mulligan, the aforementioned folk track, where a tale of love that refuses to be thwarted by parental disapproval gleefully, or shamelessly, rhymes "on the run" with a four syllable "religion".

Fear not those for whom a Sheeran ballad is the sweetest sad moment of any day, he hasn't forgotten you.

Save Myself is spare and intimate, set at the piano but effectively set right beside you on the bed while you hug yourself to tear-stained sleep, while Happier threatens to crack in the verses before a gospel uplift in the regret-heavy chorus..

And if Perfect - slow, finger-snap implied, and warbling a bit at the top - is the love will rescue us all song ever boy band dreams of, Dive is more your suit-and-loosened tie soul take: close quarters in the verses, husky and reaching in the chorus, and hurting a little bit all over.

The cliché would be there's something available for everyone on Divide, which might suggest calculation winning over creativity for Ed Sheeran.

However, it would be fairer to say there's something from every one of the Ed Sheerans available: the modern pop writer, the R&B fan, the classic pop student, the Euro dabbler, the folkie, and, yes, the rapper.

Watch this dominate the charts for the rest of 2017. Which is fair enough.

#EdSheeran

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