It’s quite an interesting experience listening to this album, not just in terms of its quality, but because of it’s appeal. It seems to provide two types of intention to it’s tone and musicality: formulaic and poppy and also raw and nostalgic. Which is a strange and obviously dichotomous partnership on paper but seems to work. Take the single Castle On The Hill, realistically it was quite a good song to release before the album. It represents the general tone of the whole record but is different enough to leave some surprises. It’s lyricism speaks of nostalgia, and of countryside living but it’s music has a production to it that gives it a more chart-like quality.
There are quite a few acoustic, slow and tender ballads of younger life, of alcohol and of lost loves. Maybe at times the instrumental of these may be a little lacking in variety, but I personally enjoy the stripped back feeling of such songs. Perhaps my natural Romantic affinity and experience with countryside and of spending a lot of time in Suffolk leaves me a little bias, but it has enough variety in other places to keep it strong. For example if you listen to Save Myself compared to Nancy Mulligan (from the deluxe edition) the two are audibly different. Nancy Mulligan has significant Irish motifs to it’s backing whereas Save Myself is much slower, much less upbeat.
There are of course quite a few tear-jerker moments, Save Myself being one of them but also Supermarket Flowers. A song that is vehemently personal and one of the most inherently authentic of the albums tracks. It has a very poetic nature to it, not intentionally slick, more fragmented and symbolic and anything less would surely be a disservice to the topic. It is not out to please a vast audience, merely to provide a tribute to a large part of his life, both the person it is about and experiences that came as a result. Despite this there are moments that I’m sure a larger variety of audiences will, sadly, be able to relate to, the very opening lines in fact:
“I took the supermarket flowers from the windowsill
I threw the day old tea from the cup
Packed up the photo album Matthew had made
Memories of a life that’s been loved”
A strong open, and an emotionally inciting one at that.
Then, as if like a post-play Shakespearean dance of comic relief, the next song after Supermarket Flowers is Barcelona. A sort of humorously dance-led song, something that picks up your mood and attempts to transport you to a much happier, and upbeat land. It’s one of the songs you can imagine could become a secret, surprising hit purely for the fact its an infectious, and smile inducing melody.
I guess Divide surprised me, Shape of You and Castle On The Hill, while representative of the tone are actually quite different from the rest of the album. Some moments, in fact, it feels like I’m back being 15 in 2010 listening to Loose Change (one of Ed’s slightly less well known EPs). There’s a return to the fervency of older songs that many of us see as iconic Sheeran tunes, but also a concentration on a more chart-friendly and marketable style. The latter some may argue is a shame, and an unnecessary attempt considering Sheerans already high level of popularity. I haven’t yet decided what my own view point is on this, but as an album, and furthermore as a pop album it is still successful, and I certainly have no shame in saying it is one I enjoy. Check it out yourself and let me know what you think.