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A diary of a few lows and more highs, so far

Music Review
= (Equals)
By Ed Sheeran
Asylum Records

TIME away from songwriting and touring allowed English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran to focus on what he considers more valuable than sold out shows and chart-topping songs — finding love, settling down, and spending time with family and friends.

After a four-year hiatus since last releasing an album, the 30-year-old singer from Suffolk returns with the fourth installment of his symbol album series with = (read as Equals). Written and produced over a four-year period, = captures much of the artist’s personal and career life. The album artwork shows butterfly imagery and is backdropped by one of Mr. Sheeran’s own abstract paintings — a hobby he started while away from creating music.

A mix of pop, rock, and folk, and ballads, Mr. Sheeran’s 14-track album maintains his relatable storyteller songwriting.

The album begins with a pop rock track, “Tides,” featuring loud guitar strumming juxtaposed with Mr. Sheeran’s lyrics about his achievements in his family and career life.

The first single of the album, “Bad Habits,” is a catchy pop track — however, it is not as infectious as its follow up single, “Shivers” a clap-along and Last Song Syndrome (LSS)-inducing dance track which could pass as this album’s “Shape of You” (2017). Both singles have spent 15 consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the United Kingdom.

The third single, “Overpass Graffiti,” is an ode to the 1980s pop sound with rich synthesizers and drumbeats.

Mr. Sheeran returns to his folk acoustic sound in “First Times,” which is reminiscent of 2011’s “The A Team.” The song talks about the euphoric experience of performing at Wembley Stadium in front of a crowd of 80,000 people, At the same time, it also reflects on more intimate “first times” such as his marriage proposal to his now wife and embracing fatherhood.

The ballad “The Joker and the Queen” is a tranquil love song fit for a slow dance. Meanwhile, “Visiting Hours” is dedicated to a lost close friend. A song Mr. Sheeran wrote while in quarantine in Australia, the lyrics capture the longing to spend a moment with them and catch up: “I wish that heaven, had visiting hours… Can I just stay a while and we’ll put all the world to rights? The little ones will grow, and I’ll still drink your favorite wine.”

In the tracks “Leave Your Life” and “Sandman,” Mr. Sheeran adds a new theme to his songs — fatherhood. “Leave Your Life” is a letter to his daughter about the promise of being a present father despite traveling and touring as a musician. He sings: “I’m never gonna leave your life. Even at the times I’m miles away, You are always on my mind.” “Sandman” is a lullaby for his daughter Lyra which he wrote on a ukulele and includes the sound of baby’s musical bed bells.

Equals offers mainstream pop tunes which could potentially be the standouts in the album and shows a maturity to Mr. Sheeran’s songwriting themes as he sings about loss and resilience and fatherhood. While he had gradually explored a more pop sound in his previous four albums — +, x, and / — it will be interesting to see what new themes and topics Mr. Sheeran will sing about in upcoming records. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman

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