Ed Sheeran releases his new album, “Subtract”


Courtesy of pitchfork.com

Ed Sheeran released his new album, “Subtract,” on May 5, 2023.

Most people recognize Ed Sheeran by his elegant voice, iconic English accent, and slow breakup ballads. This is exactly what defines Sheeran’s newest album, Subtract. The entire album contains eighteen songs, four of them being bonus tracks.

I wouldn’t say that Sheeran’s album is anything more than good. The majority of the songs are repetitive, sticking to the same legato choruses instead of replacing them with bridges or different verses. Full of contradictions and discrepancies, the songs switch from a positive, hopeful attitude to a crumbling, depressed one.

However, one of the few things that was somewhat enjoyable about Subtract was that a handful of songs abandoned Sheeran’s typical, depressing, acoustic guitar ballads. More engaging instruments–such as violins and drum samples–replaced the guitar, which provided the listener with a tiny bit of diversity in this boring album.

“Curtains,” song number eight of the album, presented a breakup in a more positive light. Lyrics like “Well the sadness, yeah, I promise that it won’t last” and “Life can be, so beautiful if you try” encourage the listener to overcome their emotional obstacles and recover from heartbreaks. Sheeran’s upbeat and confident tone in this song is completely inconsistent with the rest of the album.

“Borderline,” which follows “Curtains,” shares the exact opposite message of the song before it. Ed Sheeran gradually builds in volume, adding more harmonies and range to his vocal register as the song progresses. However, he cleverly sings, “I’m running from the light.” This is an exact disagreement from the lyric “let me see the sunshine” in “Curtains.”

One detail that I will give Sheeran credit for is his impressive songwriting. He continuously fills his songs with metaphors and personification to represent the highs and lows in his relationships. For example, in “Spark,” he says, “couldn’t stop the ocean leaking in the cracks.”

In the last song in the album, “The Hills of Aberfeldy,” Sheeran ends on a positive, bittersweet note. As a resolute declaration of his love for his soulmate, Sheeran sings, “And I know you will never find another heart that wants you more than mine.” Although the song is slow, there is a calmness to Sheeran’s voice as he includes different riffs in his singing and uses string instruments to ultimately sound more ethereal and comforting.

Songs like “Curtains” and “End of Youth,” a slower, but more pop-based song, help Sheeran appeal to younger, larger audiences and represented his development as a singer and songwriter.

Overall, Sheeran’s latest album did not live up to its reputation as his fifth and final album representing mathematical symbols. Very few of the songs felt original, and the order of the songs constantly switched between positive and negative mindsets, confusing listeners and making the message of “Subtract” unclear. However, Sheeran does showcase his incredible vocal range and stays true to his standard acoustic guitar choruses.