ON HIS SIXTH STUDIO ALBUM, SINGER-SONGWRITER ED SHEERAN CONTINUES TO PROVE THE
EMOTIVE POWER OF SIMPLICITY
BY MADELYN DAWSON
Ed Sheeran’s particular breed of singer-songwriter pop has proved as versatile as it is poignant, spanning upbeat radio-ready hits to heartfelt ballads. His lyricism, whether tongue-in-cheek introspections on past loves or earnest, heartfelt lauda-tions of those closest to him, has put him in a class of his own – and his over-a-decade-long career shows no signs of slowing down.
This May, Sheeran released his sixth full length album, titled – (subtract), which showcases yet another layer of his effortless grace. Clocking in at just over an hour long, Sheeran captivates for 18 tracks. The sweetness of his voice paired with understated acoustic and piano arrangements is both comforting and plaintive, containing a complexity of emotions more touching with each listen. Subtract begins on an optimistic note, with the acoustic opener “Boat.” The gentle instrumentals drop out almost completely for the chorus, as Sheeran sings, “The waves won’t break my boat.” He takes his time, pausing briefly after each word to let them sink in, likely convincing himself as much as his listener. By the end of the three-minute song, Sheeran has even the most cynical among us hanging on to his every plea. This is where Sheeran’s quiet power lies: in his conviction, his ability to make his listeners believe each and every one of his words. He has never been one to hold back; his honest, confessional style has garnered him the support of millions. Subtract, though, is an exercise in resil-ience, a commitment to moving forward in the face of adversity. The 32-year-old singer-songwriter is no stranger to adversity.
Just last year, Sheeran lost one of his closest friends. Jamal Edwards died in February 2022 at just 31 years old. Subtract’s lead single and Max Martin collaboration “Eyes Closed’’ meditates on Sheeran’s grief, and shows him urging himself to move forward. “Everywhere I look, I see you,” he sings. “So I’ll keep dancing with my eyes closed.” There is a certain comfort and familiar-ity to Sheeran’s music, a testament to music’s power of connection and compas-sion. On the track “Dusty,” he sings about listening to a Dusty Springfield record with someone he loves. The song leans more upbeat than most of the album, featuring percussion from Big Thief drummer James Krivchenia. Sheeran offers his listeners a moment of reprieve, a sweet dose of levity amid a haunting journey through grief, pain, and fear. Though steeped in an ineffable sadness, Subtract is pure unbridled hope, a testament to the power of honest simplicity, and an urgent call to find the beauty in life despite all of its darkness.