Ed Sheeran: = (Equals) — Album Review
★★½ of 5
Today’s Record on the Spotlight: #EdSheeran’s new album, = (pronounced ‘#equals’).
An undercurrent in Sheeran’s discography is that his albums are usually mixed bags of songs from different genres—an approach that doesn’t work out all the time. In fact, his previous albums have great songs that get snuffed out by duds. With =, the thread continues. Nonetheless, a nagging thought persists throughout:
Am I listening to an Ed Sheeran album, or a Sheeran fan doing a tepid tribute album to the Weeknd?
Here are a few talking points:
“Overpass Graffiti”: An honorable mention goes to “First Times,” Sheeran’s ode to wife Cherry Seaborn describing the ‘home’ she provides him with their quiet times together after the massive stadium and arena concerts. That said; the best song in the album is actually a synth-pop tune—the same genre of the biggest dud (see ‘miss’ below).
“Overpass Graffiti” is ’80s synth-pop done right, and Sheeran nails the sensibilities in the song down to a tee. This tune just oozes of nostalgia and neon lights that are as good as anything artists like the Weeknd or The 1975 would make.
“Bad Habits”: Oh boy — where do we begin? Sheeran’s foray into synth-pop and new wave doesn’t really fly that well. The album has a lot of forgettable songs that could be left on the cutting floor had Sheeran been more selective with what to include. “2step” and “Be Right Now” are two that quickly come to mind. However, the biggest offender here is the tune Sheeran put out as the single for the whole album.
Advertising a middling synth-pop like “Bad Habits” as the lead single for the album sets a precedent about what listeners would expect. And with an overall quality that sounds a little too much like what the aforementioned artists would record; “Bad Habits” isn’t exactly what the doctor ordered to amp the audiences up with excitement for the album.
The Deepest Cut(s):
“The Joker and the Queen” and “Love in Slow Motion”: These two songs, again obvious love letters to Sheeran’s wife, happen to be among the strongest tunes in the album. Whereas “The Joker and the Queen” details his disbelief with her love for him despite his perceived flaws, “Love in Slow Motion” is Sheeran’s declaration of devotion. These are songs that sound as if they were written and recorded during his pre-fame days.
And in truth, both songs are way better than most of his hits.
Ed Sheeran’s = isn’t an entirely terrible record. On the contrary, it contains standout tracks that might make for good entries on anyone’s year-end list of the best songs. However, the bad songs on the album are just too egregious to ignore.
Nevertheless, if one song in the album needs to embody what the record’s overall quality is, then “Bad Habits” is the way to go. The song is the epitome of =: neither hot nor cold; not even near the vicinity of the heights it sought out to reach, but not entirely terrible thanks to a handful of hits clumped with straight-out bad songs.
But then again: That middling, lukewarm quality ends up being leaps and bounds more frustrating than the opposing poles.