Album of the Week review: On his latest album Ed Sheeran diversifies and conquers

Sure, Ed Sheeran's third album ÷ (Divide) could be accused of sounding formulaic.

It is quite apparent in the first three songs that he has not strayed too far from the template of his previous songs. Eraser is a typical Sheeran-style spoken word/singing number over a live looped beat number ("money is the root of all evil and fame is hell"). Castle On The Hill, an ode to his growing-up years, is a pounding rock number that recalls a Joshua Tree-era U2 and will have arenas going.

Then, there is the bluesy, heartbreaking Dive ("So don't call me baby, unless you mean it, don't tell me you need me, if you don't believe it"), another classic-in-the- making from the ballad specialist.

The three are a strong start off the blocks for a 16-track album that turns out to be all killer and no filler.

  • POP

  • ÷ (DELUXE EDITION)

    Ed Sheeran

    Atlantic

    4/5 stars

The grit of his early days as a busker is missing a tad on this highly polished album, but the 26-year-old still throws in just enough experimentation musically, all of which seems to have been heavily influenced by his "gap year", during which he got rid of his phone and travelled the world.

On the album, he takes you on those journeys with him - whether it is Ghana on the incredibly catchy African tune Bibia Be Ye Ye, drinking sangria and dancing on the streets of Las Ramblas on Barcelona or having a pint in a pub in Ireland on folk tune Galway Girl.

He revisits the fiddle and folk music and goes full Irish again on Nancy Mulligan, where he recounts the love story of his grandparents, Nancy and William Sheeran.

No matter where he takes you sonically, every track still sounds decidedly Sheeran - heavy on honesty and storytelling, and always coupled with pop music sensibilities.

Gorgeous, slow-burning love songs abound.

It is time to retire Thinking Out Loud from wedding celebrations around the world. You can already hear Perfect being the choice of walk-in or first dance song at weddings this year. "When I saw you in that dress, looking so beautiful/I don't deserve this, darling you look perfect tonight," Sheeran sings.

Another romantic ballad, How Would You Feel, even has a John Mayer-type solo in the midst of him singing: "I'm taking my time, spending my life, falling deeper in love with you, so tell me that you love me too."

The heartbreak cuts through certain tracks, leaving emotional wrecks in their wake: Happier is about a girl that got away ("'Cause baby you look happier, you do, my friends told me one day I'll feel it too, and until then, I'll smile to hide the truth, but I know I was happier with you"); and the piano-driven Supermarket Flowers is a sort of goodbye to his grandmother, who died while he was making the album.

He might not have broken any new ground musically, but to do otherwise would seem almost disingenuous for a Sheeran album.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2017, with the headline 'All killer and no filler'. Print Edition | Subscribe