Does Ed Sheeran’s New Album Live up to Expectations?

In 2019, English singer-songwriter, Ed Sheeran, announced that he would be taking a well-deserved break from his music career. Fresh off the high of his prodigious “÷” (Divide) concert tour, the artist wanted time to “live a little more” and later, to be there for his new daughter, Lyra.

After disappearing from the music world for almost two years to focus on himself and his family, Sheeran announced his return with his new album, “=” (Equals).

A lot has changed for Sheeran since the release of the “÷” album. He married his high school sweetheart, Cherry Seaborn, turned 30, and had his first child, Lyra. In other words, the young artist has grown up.

Sheeran is no longer the scrappy young man with a guitar from “+” (Plus), eager to prove himself and find success in an industry where so many fail. He isn’t the same artist who sold out stadiums with two more hit albums, introducing the world to “Thinking Out Loud,” the timeless wedding ballad from “x” (Multiply), and the wildly popular hits “Shape of You” and “Perfect” from “÷.”

Sheeran sets the tone for the album in the first song “Tides,” singing about how his life has changed since becoming a father. The album was written around this theme and it shows up repeatedly throughout before concluding with “Be Right Now,” a reminder to enjoy the moment you are in. (Photo By Kaya Scuba)

In “=” we hear a new Ed Sheeran. One who has found a sense of balance and maturity that is reflected in his music. He sets the tone for the album in the first song, “Tides,” singing with raw simplicity.

“I have grown up I am a father now / Everything has changed but I am still the same somehow,” Sheeran sang against surprisingly harsh guitar strokes.

After wrapping up his Divide concert tour, which spanned for 30 months across six continents and holds the title of the highest-grossing concert tour of all time, the beloved pop icon settled down to embrace a life of family and stability.

The birth of his daughter had Sheeran “the-new-father” doubting whether “Sheeran-the-musician” had a place in this new chapter of his life.

Just when the 28-year-old artist had reached the epitome of artistry and fame, he almost stepped away from his music career for good. 

“I remember standing on the Ipswich stage finishing and then getting off stage and just being like, I’m 28. And like, I don’t know what to do now — I’ve chased and chased and chased and chased and got to this thing.” Sheeran told SiriusXM. “And then I had my daughter…And then I was like, ‘That’s it, this is me, I’m just going to be a dad, I’m not going to play music anymore.'”

The English singer-songwriter stares thoughtfully at the camera. Four years after the release of his last album, “Divide,” Ed Sheeran returned to the music world with a new album, “Equals.” The artist stepped away from his career temporarily to focus on himself and his new daughter, Lyra. (Photo Taken From raptv.com)

But who is Ed Sheeran without his guitar? Instead of providing relief, the time off left him struggling to find a sense of purpose. 

“I was kind of searching for who I was because I stopped playing music for a bit. And music is entirely me as a person,” the musician explained.

It became clear that continuing to write and perform music was in the best interest of himself and his family. 

“I suddenly was like, I think it’s more important for my daughter to grow up knowing that her parents have the work ethic and her parents love working hard and love creating and enjoy their jobs and seeing that rather than like looking at your dad as technically unemployed,” Sheeran said.

But living up to your name can be harder than creating one, to begin with, and picking up where he left off must have been daunting. But the weight of expectations did not stop Sheeran from dusting off his guitar and pursuing his passion once again. 

“=” is a love letter. Sheeran’s lyrics overflow with adoration and admiration for his wife, daughter, and late Australian music executive Michael Gudinski. Songs about one-night stands and drunken loneliness from his past albums have been replaced with melodies of devotion and fulfillment. 

Ed Sheeran walks with his high school sweetheart and wife, Cherry Seaborn. The couple got married in January of 2019 and many of the songs in his new album are dedicated to Seaborn and their daughter, Lyra. (Photo Taken From people.com)

However, the album is missing the captivating element of his past albums that left listeners longing for more. In short, it just isn’t very interesting.

Aside from a couple of stand-out songs like “Bad Habits” and “Shivers,” both released as singles before the full album and have spent a total of 15 weeks combined at the top of UK charts, many of the songs are almost interchangeable. The album moves from one sweet melody to the next without leaving a lasting impression.

Senior Stormy Wallace wasn’t impressed.

“Overall, there’s no wow factor to the album; it’s good, but not great and I wouldn’t listen to it again,” she said.

It is inarguable that Ed Sheeran knows how to write music for the masses and “=” does not contradict that. But it is possible that the talented musician has gotten too good at what he does. Songs like “Love in Slow Motion,” “Leave Your Life” and “Stop the Rain” encroach on the fine line between charmingly sincere and a generic pop hit. 

Although “=” did not live up to expectations, it does give us a window into who Ed Sheeran has become. It tells the story of a man who has found happiness and contentment separate from the thrill of watching his album sales skyrocket and performing in massive venues to adoring fans. A man who has learned to “just stay here and be right now” because this moment is all we have.