By Emily Weikl
After a three-year musical hiatus, Ed Sheeran returned with “Divide” on March 3. Two songs were released to stream, “Castle on the Hill” and “Shape of You,” in early January. The two have distinctly different feels to them. The former is a folksy ballad to Sheeran’s hometown in England and the latter has an electro pop sound fit for a bar or club. “Castle” and “Shape” were good indicators of “Divide”’s overall sound.
Songs other than “Castle” pay homage to Sheeran’s roots. “Nancy Mulligan,” complete with fiddles and chanting, recalls the story of how his paternal grandparents met and married in Ireland. The tale of William Sheeran and Nancy Mulligan has an upbeat tune driving it forward and tells a story with a fitting conclusion.
“Galway Girl” is also a roots song. “The term ‘Galway Girl’ describes a black haired and blue eyed woman from the city of Galway [in Ireland] and it was coined by Steve Earle’s song of the same title,” according to Genius, a lyric website. Like “Nancy”, the song also has a driving beat and fiddles.
The tearjerker of “Divide” is “Supermarket Flowers,” a song about the aftermath of Sheeran’s grandmother dying. “Took the get well soon cards and stuffed animals/Poured the old ginger beer down the sink/ Dad always told me, Don’t you cry when you’re down”/But mum, there’s a tear every time that I blink,” the song starts.
Despite the subject, the song isn’t entirely melancholy. Lines such as “You were an angel in the shape of my mom,” make “Supermarket” a song that gives some comfort to those who have lost a loved one. It tugs on the heartstrings regardless, so have a tissue or two ready when listening to it.
Both the subjects of “Happier” and “New Man” are the same: a recent breakup and the significant other moving on. Where the narrator of “Happier” is distraught and dejected, the one in “New Man” is scornful and haughty. The two combined tell flip sides of a common topic used in genres across the board.
“Save Myself” has a message for people who are selfless to the point of neglecting their own mental or physical health: you have got to pay attention to your own needs too.
“Even if some of the lyrics feel like a bit of a gut punch (“Life can get you down so I just numb the way it feels/ Or drown it with a drink and out-ofdate prescription pills,” for example),” Billboard reports, “Sheeran makes the point that you need to pick yourself up before you can help anyone else – something that many people probably need to hear, even if they don’t realize it.”
Speaking of “Save Myself’s” lyrics, they are perhaps the ones that can make the most emotional impact on the listener. These lines in particular “I gave all my oxygen to people that could breathe/I gave away my money and now we don’t even speak/I drove miles and miles, but would you do the same for me?” can resonate with many people who give so much to others but scarcely take for something themselves.
What makes “Divide” a strong album is a combination of three elements: the lyrics, the skillful storytelling and a palpable emotion behind certain songs. With these in tow, “Divide” manages to be both lively and reflective. “This is his name on the album so ÷ leans on little asides from Sheeran’s own talent,” according to the the Independent. “Equally, it wasn’t written to please critics – it was written to please fans, to be commercially successful… and that’s exactly what Sheeran will achieve with this.”
Those who already know of Sheeran’s music will likely enjoy this album along with those who enjoy smart lyrics and acoustic pop in general. “Divide” is not a revolutionary album by any means but that doesn’t mean it won’t make people who listen to it smile, wonder, or feel hopeful.
That seems to be what Sheeran means to do with his music, and in this case the verdict is mission accomplished.