Ed Sheeran Surprising ‘-‘: Addresses Death and Depression in Review


Well, this was the weirdest “album setup promo” week ever. It’s a brash way to say that Ed Sheeran, as a defendant in a copyright infringement lawsuit, if not for the project itself, has reached as much press as any artist could only dream of in the days leading up to a new release. coincidentally ended the day before his new record was released, eight years after his first lawsuit. In a strange case of coincidence, the lawsuit did what a record label hopes any album launch campaign would do: not only put the artist in the headlines, but also made him seem infinitely more endearing, considering how much the public was supportive of him. Even people who never thought they loved Ed Sheeran to prevail.

So it should feel like a triumphant moment, right? But the new album in question “-“ (we’ll translate it as “Subtract” for clarity) is not the kind of album that allows for big grins and flashing “V” marks. Quite the opposite: returning to themes of death and depression as sharply as any pop superstar has ever done. The album is reckless in that respect, without the “here’s a token banger” sticks you’d expect anyone with such an underwhelmed collection to sell. As such, it fits right in with the not-so-vigorous speech Sheeran delivered outside the courtroom on Thursday, just after the verdict that exonerated him was announced. Even if justifiably concluded, he seemed to be saying that the case was an eight-year waste of time – with particularly bitter irony last week, his statement had prevented him from attending his beloved grandmother’s funeral in Ireland. Seeing him talk about the missed serve on the steps, you couldn’t help but think that “Exit” should be for him at least. Really Feel like you’re out of today’s headlines right now… if the headlines are about death, not copyright law.

In the end, it all comes down to the deadly coil breach, right?

A point that came up repeatedly during the trial could not have been less to do with Marvin Gaye’s song “Let’s Get It On,” which the controversial 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud” allegedly plagiarized. it was about imagining that love lasts into old age – “when your legs don’t work the way they used to… when my hands don’t play the strings the same way… my memory fades.” (23-year-old Sheeran identified this obsolescence in the song as something that would come out at age 70, an idea that seems young and naive and weird now that everyone has seen Willie Nelson killed at 90.)” can be summed up as: What if we NO make 70? What if we can’t all reach 35?

Two brutal events that probably precipitated this need to be understood before buying the new album. (Anyone who is a fan of or has received any of their promos from the four-part Sheeran Disney+ documentary series “The Sum of It All,” which premiered Wednesday, knows them already.) In February 2022, the singer lost a friend. their best friends and first champions are Jamal Edwards, who succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 31. Very soon, Sheeran’s wife was diagnosed with a tumor while she was pregnant with her second daughter; this resulted in treatment that would otherwise start immediately. Perhaps ironically, he had a minor hit about six months ago with a song about death called “Visiting Hours,” inspired by a professional colleague who passed away. While tearful for some fans, this tune was an emotionalized vision of the veil that separates this world from the afterlife. When it came time to write about death – and possible deaths – that came closer to home last year, Sheeran found himself much more pragmatic and writing from a position of depression and anxiety. The new album doesn’t get a lot of punch: Sorrow and fear have left him in a bad place, and for now, it’ll take some quiet acceptance for him to come back to his old spiritual vision.

At the risk of becoming a glib, you can assume that he seduced fate by planning for ten years to name this particular album “Subtract” in its release cycle. It’s really very much about extraction – the extraction of souls, of themselves! – no, thanks to the set of possible deaths he saw developing in his life. There has been a happier ending since Sheeran’s wife, Cherry Seaborn, was declared cancer-free. But Sheeran doesn’t seem to have waited until he wrote most or nearly all of this collection amid grief and uncertainty. There’s only one song on the record, “The Hills of Aberfeldy” (the closing segment of the 24-track standard release), which dates back to before 2022, to previous versions of “Subtract” that Sheeran planned. Presumably, the original plan would have been to add songs about lost love and love not lost to death. Maybe when he starts using his words again for album titles, he revisits some of those cutting room floor pieces. (“-” is said to be the last sign to show with a mathematical marker before Sheeran is forced to really do algebra on our ass.)

How spouse Anyway? In a word: sweet. So beautiful (in two words). Like super-swallow drugs, grief fades when Sheeran puts his hip-hop side to the side and pulls out his acoustic guitar and does what he does best at the end of the day: creating tunes that are that moving. I could swear you’ve heard of them before. (It is intended to imply current events.) Without going so far as to say “easy listening,” “Subtraction” is never as difficult a listening as the explanations of its themes appear on the math paper. His first partner for the entire project, National’s acclaimed producer and co-writer, Aaron Dessner, is perhaps even more famous these last few years of “Folklore.” For Dessner, taking Taylor Swift to an acoustic-based sound was more difficult than it was here with Sheeran, who always had a ’70s-based soft-rock sound, more trip-hop, and synthesizer as its core. pop still bends. Staying in this basic style throughout a 42-minute album (plus much longer deluxe releases) could be a dream come true for the segment of fans who love it most in its cute baladic mode, even if it’s gone into lyrical mode. this precludes any chance of these particular tracks becoming wedding songs.

The danger of sticking to this downshift sound (understandably) is that not all of the songs separate themselves on first listens. Dessner, a wash A sound that can sound somewhat the same throughout a long set, even if one piece is dominated by acoustic guitar and the other has piano or silent synths. When you take the album in big duos rather than small ones, you might want at least occasionally the music to be as raw as Sheeran’s lyrics. There’s a terrific track, “Curtains,” where the electric guitars and the increase in tempo threaten to provide real purification halfway through the recording. threaten effective is the word, because Dessner and mixer Jonathan Low keep these guitars low in the mix – perhaps to the detriment of the melody itself, but not to make it feel more of a piece with the otherwise bland mood of the album.

There are a few other moments on the album that succinctly impact, if not enchantment, such as bringing together Max Martin and Shellback as co-writers/producers on a single track called “Eyes Closed”. (She wouldn’t go that far to be a true outlier; no one would mistake her for “Style”.) Meanwhile, there’s a song that sounds really promising, “Dusty,” and it doesn’t shy away from the mostly darker version of the album. side to say this might be the best as a pure listening experience. The piece is about escaping the harsher things life brings by repeatedly needle-dropping Dusty Springfield’s classic album “Dusty in Memphis” with her toddler and experiencing the joy of experiencing her reaction to Springfield’s sound and vibe. In the subgenre “Registers related to other records”, this is a real saver.

But if Sheeran is the one to rank the album, he must really be a fan of the abrupt transitions. Because right after the delightfully pleasant afterglow that “Dusty” leaves, comes a segment to the song “End of Youth”, in which he apologizes to Don Henley and explains how death represents the true end of innocence. “I’ve been down since you left / I tried to fill the void with wine / When he came I stopped the meds / I cleared my game overnight.” (In fact, perhaps the reference to her quitting drugs when her first child was born is, in her own way, a continuation of the previous issue.) Reflecting further on her friend’s death, Sheeran said, “Is this the end of our youth when we suffer? Does it take over?… When love is real, there is never closure. … We spend our youth with open arms and hearts, and then darkness comes in and that is the end of youth.”

Now, perhaps an editor’s pen could have made Sheeran use the word “youth” less than once or twice. And listeners who are slightly older than Sheeran and/or have had more recent experiences with death and grief might shrug at a song like this and say: Welcome to the club, son. But it would be cynical to belittle Sheeran for putting his first true sense of morality for a young person into words that would be therapeutic for others going through the same rude awakening.

One of “Subtract”‘s strong points is how little sugar Sheeran tries to cover his tough 2022, even while providing a few leavening songs like “Colourblind” that speak more generally of his love for his wife. It’s not just the possibility of losing. Otherwise, “Life Goes On” as a song title for the seventh stage of grief and “I feel like I’m running out of the light right now” as an overriding emotion representing something that isn’t essentially Pollyanna. an approach to the toughest problems that everyone – and everyone – has faced in a lifetime. It takes some commercial courage to bring this forward, and it might not be too daunting to take a left turn on the way to not only think but live loudly. If the next album is full of “Bad Habit, Episodes II, III, and IV,” maybe it deserved it.

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