Ed Sheeran looks set to break all sorts of records with Divide.
After shifting 232,000 copies on its first day, the Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter’s third album has already gone double platinum and clinched both the number one album and singles title in the UK. But such mind-boggling success aside; is Divide any good?
The album’s lead single ‘Shape of You,’ is a tropical pop smash with an infectiously catchy dancehall-inspired melody. It is to Divide what ‘Sing’ was to Multiply, the dominant pop track with the sweet yet sultry lyrics that Sheeran is famous for.
If ‘Shape of You’ targets the youth of Radio 1, ‘Castle on the Hill’ appeals to the more mature Radio 2 listener. Following the angsty reflection of opener ‘Eraser’, the up-tempo, soaring chords in ‘Castle on the Hill’ are nostalgic and uplifting, and paint a relatable, poignant image of Sheeran’s youth in Suffolk.
Sheeran draws on his Irish roots for ‘Nancy Mulligan’ and ‘Galway Girl’. Ed had to fight to get the latter on Divide, arguing that there was a major gap in the market for Irish folk music. To some ears, he’s correct; the song is currently the most streamed on Spotify. To others however, it is an awful pastiche of trad Irish folk music.
‘New Man’ is essentially a piss-take of the modern metrosexual man in which Ed joins the likes of Kanye West in a study of bleached arseholes – a moment of much-needed levity amidst the dense romanticism of ‘Hearts Don’t Break Around Here’ and ‘Perfect’. Divide is at its most emotive with ‘Supermarket Flowers’; an incredibly sweet ode to Ed’s recently passed grandmother.
The impact of Sheeran’s year-long hiatus/‘gap yah’ spent travelling the world is clear, and is equal parts endearing and annoying. The Twi chorus in Ghana-influenced ‘Bibia Be Ye Ye’ is a successful cross-cultural blend of sounds, whilst the cheesy ‘Barcelona’ falls flat. Divide can be commended for its versatility and its array of solid hit singles, but ultimately what results is a disjointed, mixed-bag of an album. At times triumphant, but often underwhelming, Divide is a body of work we wanted to love, but ultimately find uninspiring.