Cheap shots at Pop music: a review of Ed Sheeran’s ÷

OK LET’S clear this up, yeah, it’s pretty cheap and easy to pick on an artist like Ed Sheeran as a target for negative responses to popular music. Some people might view this article as being petty; picking on a subject that perhaps gets a lot of grief from the alternative. But there is a legitimate reasoning behind the opinion that ÷ is an incredibly sub-par record. Just ask Pitchfork. Moving on from a musical idea he had begun to develop on his first two records, Sheeran expands his *shudder* ‘rapping’ skills on this new record, whilst retaining aspects of singer-songwriter material.

Right from-the-off on opener ‘Eraser’, Sheeran goes balls deep into a faux hip hop attitude as he spits GCSE level rhymes over a chart-esque beat that’s nauseatingly bad. Sheeran can definitely produce some sort of ‘rap’, and ‘Eraser’ actually gives us perhaps his most (read: only) personal track on this album, but the real issue lies in Sheeran’s wordplay which is devastatingly basic for the majority of this record. He avoids big words and swears while dropping corny references to Pop Culture through Guinness and Ministry of Sound CDs. On ‘What Do I Know?’ he reminds us that ‘daddy’ told him not get involved politics or religion, and it’s this mentality that keeps Sheeran’s lyrics so relentlessly dull. The lack of exploration or willingness to write about dangerous or exciting experiences is painfully obvious throughout this entire record.

As the beat for ‘New Man’ kicks in I find myself worrying. ‘Oh no’, I think to myself, ‘Ed’s going to start rapping again.’ Sure enough Edward Sheeran hands in his coursework on contemporary poetry and I sigh and award him a D-. This time he’s abandoned his confessional tone for bitching and moaning, picking on feminine features of pretentious men in a narrative that leaves pretty much no sympathy for the narrator. It’s like a poorly written diss track. The worst part of Sheeran’s ‘rapping’ is that for the last couple of years we’ve had events such as the BRIT Awards notoriously failing to acknowledge Grime music while acts like Wiley, Skepta and Stormzy revitalise the genre. Here we have a white, middle class man taking the genre and churning out substandard verses based on similar topics to that of the actual British Rap scene. Way to take a dump on someone else’s culture, Ed.

When you move away from Sheeran’s ‘rapping’, we find ourselves in familiar territory – It’s the softly spoken, instantly forgettable acoustic number. Even after a few listens these songs are merely faded memories already suffocated by blandness as they stink of mediocrity. The numbers that really stand out are the ones which have a ‘theme’, or pull from a particular style. ‘Castle on the Hill’, for example, works well as a single, and is reasonably memorable because, let’s be honest, it sounds like a Mumford and Sons song. ‘Shape of You’ is memorable because it was originally written for Rihanna, so has much more of an electronic club vibe. When Sheeran is writing in a particularly fashion he can at least come up with something vaguely noticeable, even if they are hardly the most noteworthy comparisons. It also shows how stale his usual style has become, that they fail to seize the attention of the listener compared to a song Rihanna rejected.

Perhaps one of the worst stand-out tracks is ‘Galway Girl’, a track which sees Sheeran ‘rap’ over a beat made up largely of Irish Folk music. In his lyrics, Sheeran discusses falling in love with a girl in an Irish folk band, while throwing every Irish Pop Culture reference he can think of into the mash. Whilst he essentially gentrifies Irish Folk music he also succeeds in creating a painfully corny instrumental with a hook that comes straight out of the Big Book of Boy Band. It’s sickeningly sweet and generic nature is literally poison, and is perhaps one of the worst pop songs to come out of the UK in the last seven years. Oh, and it took nine people to write this thing. Nine fucking people.

Not that any of this matters at all. Sheeran is a grown-up, he has many adoring fans, makes a lot of money from his music, wins awards and will probably headline Glastonbury this year. But fame and attention doesn’t always equal stellar song writing, and this album is proof of that. ÷  is not even a terrible album, it’s worse than that. It’s forgettable.

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