Ever since the release of “+” in 2011, Ed Sheeran has emerged as a profoundly influential solo artist. Coming from his humble roots as a travelling musician in England to filling stadiums around the globe, Sheeran has earned fame with his earnest songwriting style and unique “one-man band” performances, but it’s his studio albums that showcase his true creative potential.
Last week, Sheeran released “÷," the highly anticipated follow-up to 2014’s “X.” He took his creative process in a new direction this time around.
In the past Sheeran adhered almost completely to writing songs about romance and hardship, developed further by writing songs in styles similar to top 40 R&B with tunes like “Runaway” and “Sing.” With “÷,” the presence of R&B is less pronounced as it was in “X” and incorporates more elements of power-pop and, surprisingly, folk.
If there’s one thing that Sheeran takes seriously, it’s his music. Sheeran’s personal lyrics, emotional timbre and playing style would quickly become played out if done by anyone else. However, Sheeran makes a point of carefully planning the tracks to avoid producing music for the sake of producing music. One listen to “÷” and it’s evident that he doesn’t seek to exploit himself, but he creates the music he wants to make instead of what his producers want in order to sell albums.
It’s all too often that mainstream artists create albums around the singles they plan to release, leading to an album you buy for essentially a few songs. Despite the large amount of promotion with “÷” and its flagship singles “Shape of You” and “Castle on the Hill,” the true beauty of the album is in the 10 other tracks, including “Galway Girl,” “What Do I Know?” and bonus tracks “Nancy Mulligan,” “Barcelona,” and “Bibia Be Ye Ye.” These tracks are Sheeran’s ventures into different songwriting styles that bring influence from international and folk influences.
The overall vibe of the album is a happy one, eschewing that renown melancholy ambiance in his songs. This slight change in pace could be considered a vye for attracting new listeners, but when taken in a historical observation of other artists, it’s in their nature to evolve as musicians and to try new styles. “÷” is a bold venture on Sheeran’s part that can be interpreted many different ways — some may like it, others may think it’s awful.
It’s best to go into the album with no expectations, but observant of the idea that the album is built song by song and not in support of its singles. “÷” is an album that delves into Sheeran’s risk-taking, subverting a new musical direction that may provide a glimpse into his future endeavors as an artist.
Fin Martinez is the culture editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @FinMartinez.