Sheeran’s new album ‘=’ Mediocrity


Nikolai Gentes, Staff

Rating: 4/10

Pop star Ed Sheeran recently released a new album titled “=”, which serves as the follow-up to his much-maligned 2019 album “No. 6 Collaborations Project”. “=,”an album that features several stylistic shifts, as well as entrenchments for Sheeran, proves unable to avoid the usual derision Ed Sheeran receives. 

To preface this, I would like to note that there are, indeed, people who rag on Sheeran’s music simply because he is Ed Sheeran. This is wrong. Too many people judge the work of artists through a biased lens, which creates an unfair disadvantage for musicians who will forever be judged based on preconceived notions, or what they’ve done in the past.

However, this is not one such instance, as “=” is a legitimately bad record.

It’s a project wrought with musical cliches, and overly-commercialized drivel. For the record, there is nothing inherently wrong with making accessible commercial music, but Sheeran’s new album does it in such a lazy and predictable way where it’s painfully obvious that some of its tracks were produced for the sole purpose of being hit singles. 

Case in point is the single “Shivers”, which is an awful dance-pop song whose greatest strength is that it eventually ends. With an insufferable hook that sticks in your head for all the wrong reasons, and bland, inane lyrics that sound as though they were generated by an AI, it is one of the most egregiously low-effort bits of radio fodder to come out this year.

A less painful example of Sheeran’s low-quality money makers is the single “Bad Habits”. While this song is admittedly better than “Shivers”, its few decent qualities don’t stop it from feeling incredibly tacky. It’s a track that reminds one of Taylor Swift’s cringeworthy attempt at seeming villainous on her famed track “Look What You Made Me Do,” as “Bad Habits” is packed with vague gestures toward partying and hedonism that unconvincingly attempt to portray Sheeran as a bad boy. Sonically, it’s also nothing special, as it merely rips off the established sound of The Wknd. 

Sheeran also attempts to rap—-four words that should strike fear into the heart of any human being—-on the track “2step”. Unsurprisingly, this goes over poorly, and the track is further brought down by yet another lazily written chorus that digs its way into your brain like an infectious parasite.

I will admit that there are moments on “=” where Sheeran ditches his pop-centric sound in favor of a more stripped back approach, and it’s in these moments that the album shines—however dimly.

“Visiting Hours” is a rather touching track where Sheeran mournfully wishes heaven had visiting hours so that he could visit those he’s lost. Sheeran’s performance, choice of instrumentals, and general message work well in tandem, even if the group vocals near the end of the track are overbearing. 

“Tides” is another relative highlight, a straightforward indie rock song that stands as the record’s most sonically energetic number. With lyrics addressing the changing tides in Sheeran’s life, such as his newfound role as a father, it’s one of the record’s more genuine moments.

However, other sentimental tracks present a great number of faults.

“Sandman’s” instrumental stands as the worst on the record, as it sounds as though it could be stock music. It’s overly childish and kitsch to the point of being patronizing, which is disappointing considering the song’s interesting themes of parenthood. 

“The Joker and the Queen” is the album’s most melodramatic track. Featuring an overblown string section and exaggerated vocals, it desperately attempts to make the song’s central metaphor revolving around love and playing cards seem more meaningful than it is.

All and all, while it is at times tolerable, “=” is cliche, soulless, and wholly inconsistent. It’s few bright spots sadly don’t stop it from being an utterly abysmal project.