Ed Sheeran’s fourth album titled “=” (equals) could be considered a snapshot of his life as first time father.
First song “Tides” aptly demonstrates this.
It opens up loud and surging with Sheeran seemingly taking stock as he sings ‘I have grown up / I’m a father now / everything has changed, but I am still the same somehow.”
“The theme of the record is me turning 30, becoming a dad, losing a friend, trying to balance work and marriage,” Sheeran said to Apple Music. The tone of the album is basically, “the stuff that really has meant a lot to me,” he added. Hence the introspective tone.
Classic Sheeran appears on the acoustic guitar-driven “First Times.” Gentle and delicate, the song features Ed crooning “I thought it’d feel different playing Wembley / 80,000 singing with me / it’s what I’ve been chasing ‘cause this is the dream.” Great opening for popstar-levels Ed, but what it is really about are the simple things in life. “The first kiss, the first night, the first song that made you cry, the first drink, red wine, on a step in Brooklyn.” Ed also shared that he recorded the vocals in Nashville, smashed on wine and weed and close to falling asleep.
Over past albums, Sheeran has been toying with pop sounds (think “Sing” etc.). It comes into full bloom in “=” with tunes such as “Shivers” and the radio ready dance song “Bad Habits.” New single “Overpass Graffiti” also sees Sheeran trying out synth-laden, Retrowave-tinged sounds.
“=” takes its listeners along different moods from upbeat, dance-y tunes, to classic Sheeran acoustic songs, to bare piano ballads like “The Joker and the Queen.” According to an interview, Sheeran wrote the entire lyrics in just 15-20 minutes, inspired by a piano instrumental by UK singer-songwriter Sam Roman.
The new album can also be described as an aural snapshot of the 30-year-old singer-songwriter’s current life. On “Collide” (a song inspired by the Ben Kweller song “Thirteen”), Sheeran lists down the experiences he’s shared with his wife. “We’ve ordered pizza to an aeroplane / slept on a beach like we were castaways” to “we’ve seen the moon reflect on the rolling tide / been up at 5AM watching the sunrise / because the world looks better when I’m by your side.” Which pretty much sums up what a happy and contented man Sheeran is right now.
At fourteen songs, Sheeran makes up for the four years since his last album. And highlights abound here such as mid aughts-era sounding “2 Step,” or his big-finger-to-copyright-lawsuits on “Stop The Rain,” anthemic “Love in Slow Motion,” and the lovely elegiac “Visiting Hours” (inspired by his friend Michael Gudinski) and a couple more, including “Leave Your Life”, a song Sheeran wrote for his young daughter that was inspired by his (late) mentor and friend’s daughter.
“=” is written and produced by Sheeran, Johnny McDaid and Fred Gibson. Ed’s brother Matthew Sheeran is also credited as arranger (strings) “=” (equals) is the fourth installment to Sheeran’s titular album symbols. Previous records included “+” (plus), “X” (multiply and “÷” (divide).