After four and a half years since his last studio album, Ed Sheeran is finally back with new music. His new album “=” (Equals), was released on Oct. 29, 2021 and has already been streamed over one billion times on Spotify.
This album details new milestones and experiences that the megastar has gone through over the past few years including getting married, becoming a father and losing a close friend.
“Equals” is Ed Sheeran from a place we’ve never heard before, with a sound that is somehow completely different from anything he’s done while being eerily familiar at the same time.
What Sheeran does and has always done best, is the specifics. Whether it be in his soft, sweet love songs or his fast-paced, rhythmic tracks, Sheeran’s songwriting has always been at the forefront. The best songs on “Equals” are where this rings true.
The album’s opener “Tides” recaps his past years and has the listener meet him where he is now with a melodic sound, reminiscent of “Castle on the Hill”. It’s clear that Sheeran has taken quite a liking to dance beats, with the two singles from the album “Bad Habits” and “Shivers” being upbeat, chart-topping hits as was the case with 2017’s “Shape of You”.
However, it is this upbeat sound that drowns out much of the album. “Overpass Graffiti” is track five on “Equals” and it’s beautiful lyrics depict a feeling of alleviation when thinking back on a past breakup, but the beat of the song is all you’re hearing. The album’s closer “Be Right Now” seems like an easy, simple final song that is much too similar to track ten “Stop the Rain”. When compared to his past album closers (“Give Me Love”, “Afire Love” and “Save Myself”), “Be Right Now” doesn’t even come close. “Divide” was released a full three years after “Multiply” and the wait was worth it, but “Equals” feels like the four years wait wasn’t paid off in the ways you hoped.
“First Times” is by far the best song on the album, followed by “Visiting Hours”. “First Times” has every single thing that Ed Sheeran does best. After selling out a record number of nights for a solo artist at Wembley Stadium back in 2015, Sheeran felt like he had reached his peak. His career had been building to a point that he has now achieved, so what’s next? The song is an ode to his wife and his realization that there are always things in life that you will do for the first time. The point of this song is to remember you are never out of first times.
His eloquent songwriting here is at an all time high, in his perfect simplicity during the second verse when he sings, “The greatest thing that I have achieved/Was four little words, down on one knee/You said, ‘Darling, are you joking?’/And I just said, ‘Please’”.
No matter what kind of album Ed Sheeran would’ve put out, the comparisons to his previous work would’ve been immediate and endless, but it’s nearly impossible not to compare when his discography is as truly great as it is. Ed Sheeran is at a new point in his life, and it’s only natural that his music grows and changes with him. If what you love most is the new-age beats and quick lyrics present on “+”, will you find everything you’re looking for on “=”? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find something.
“=” is full of love and loss and songs big enough to fill stadiums, but it also encompasses a level of growth that is new for Sheeran. So no, when compared to “Multiply” and “Divide”, “Equals” does not stack up in the same way. But when compared to most other music put out by artists today, Ed Sheeran is still at the top of his game.