Ed Sheeran’s New Album ‘=’ Is Best When He Doesn’t Get Too Personal

Jill O'Rourke
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Ed SheeranCindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM

The Voice Mega Mentor Ed Sheeran released his new album = (pronounced “equals”) today. The record features 14 tracks, including the singles “Bad Habits” and “Shivers.” This is Sheeran’s first solo album since marrying his wife Cherry Seaborn and welcoming their daughter Lyra, so many of the songs are clearly based on his personal life.

While it’s nice that Sheeran is inspired to sing about his family, his most obviously personal songs on this album are, for the most part, the least captivating. When he puts some distance between himself and the music and allows listeners to fill in the blanks themselves, it’s easier to get into.

Ed Sheeran Gets Personal on His New Album ‘=’

The first lyric on Sheeran’s new album, in the song “Tides,” has him singing, “I have grown up, I am a father now.” So that pretty much sets the tone for much of the record, in which the singer shares some very literal thoughts about his family and his experience as a celebrity.

This song, like others on the album, is very specifically about Sheeran’s life. That can be alienating for listeners, most of whom probably won’t be able to relate to his particular experience as a famous musician with a family at home.

Another song, “First Times,” starts with the lyric, “I thought it’d feel different, playing Wembley / Eighty thousand singing with me.” There’s nothing universal about that experience. And unless you’re a huge Sheeran fan who’s invested in his personal life, it’s not really an interesting thing to listen to a song about.


The song “Collide” at least has an appealing beat, but once again he talks about things that are completely out of touch with how most people live. “We’ve ordered pizza to an aeroplane / Slept on the beach like we were castaways.” he sings.

On some other songs, Sheeran manages to strike more of a balance between personal and accessible. There’s “Sandman,” a lullaby of sorts for his daughter. For parents, this could be a sweet track to share with your kids. Otherwise, it’s just a cute song that I personally don’t have much interest in revisiting.

The emotional “Visiting Hours” is the song on the album with arguably the clearest real-life inspiration — the death of Sheeran’s friend Michael Gudinski. There’s a reference to Sheeran’s daughter growing up, but in general, the song’s depiction of grief is universal enough that listeners can still apply it to their own experiences.

Sheeran Is at His Best When He’s Having Fun

The second song on the album, the single “Shivers,” is Sheeran at his best. The lyrics describe romantic attraction in terms many people can relate to, and the beat makes you want to dance. It’s reminiscent of earworms like “Shape of You” and “Sing.”

Other songs on the album in the same vein are “Bad Habits,” “Overpass Graffiti,” and “2Step.” When I listened to these tracks, I wasn’t constantly aware that they were about Ed Sheeran’s life. Even if they’re inspired by his own experiences, they’re vague enough to be enjoyed outside of that context.

Some of the tracks on the album also have distinct boy band vibes, which isn’t a bad thing. “Leave Your Life” could totally be a One Direction song, while “Stop the Rain” has a late ’90s sound reminiscent of Backstreet Boys. “Be Right Now” is a pleasant, if slightly forgettable, mid-tempo option.

If you’re more of a fan of Sheeran’s romantic ballads, you won’t be disappointed. In addition to the more specific-to-him-and-Cherry song “First Times,” there’s also “Love in Slow Motion” and “The Joker and the Queen.” They’re a little cheesy for my taste, but I won’t begrudge other people enjoying it.

At the end of the day, I’ll be coming back to Sheeran’s more upbeat tracks that don’t make me feel like I’m reading a tabloid article about his life. Let us know in the comments if you agree.

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