Review: Ed Sheeran’s ‘=’ reflects transition to next stage in life

This cover image released by Atlantic Records shows "Equals," the latest album by Ed Sheeran. (Atlantic Records via AP)

By Katelyn Patterson | Reporter

Ed Sheeran’s new album “=” (Equals) was released Friday. While the singer hasn’t released a solo album since “Divide” in 2017, he did release a collaboration project in 2019 and has since then become a husband and a father.

This album contains a different sound than its mathematically-named predecessors. It seems Sheeran has ditched his signature folk-pop for radio-bound hits. The first single, “Bad Habits,” peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and spent 17 weeks on the chart.

David Browne for Rolling Stone said “=” reflects how Sheeran has commanded crowds in stadiums with his previous albums, but now has “choruses meant to incite cell-phone-lit sing-alongs in baseball parks.”

“For anyone else, that shift could spell doom,” Browne said. “But as someone who grew up with the Beatles and Elton on one hand, and Eminem and Blackstreet on the other, he’s equally rooted in old-school melody and beat-derived new century songwriting. In its best moments, ‘=’ brings together those two worlds.”

The best moments include songs such as “2Step,” “Stop the Rain” and “Overpass Graffiti.” These songs show off overlapping harmonies and the veteran songwriter’s ability. They also are the best evidence of Browne’s statement — each of these songs were created for Sheeran’s signature loop pedal, guitar and crowd-filled stadiums.

Lindsay Zoladz at The New York Times said “=” is the kindest, gentlest Sheeran album.

“Each of his previous records had at least one song that complicated his image as a heart-on-his-sleeve nice guy, whether that was the surprisingly venomous music-industry sendup ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’ or ‘New Man,’ his previous solo album’s sassy kiss-off to both a former flame and her subsequent boyfriend,” Zoladz said. “The soulful grain that sometimes adds texture to his smooth croon is also seldom heard on this record. The driving conflict of ‘=’ rarely strays from or goes deeper than a familiar, repeatedly stressed mantra: Life comes at you fast, but it slows to the tempo of a wedding waltz when you’re in love.”

“Visiting Hours,” the second single of “=,” is a classic tearjerker that an Ed Sheeran album wouldn’t be complete without. “Sandman” — an actual lullaby — is yet another reminder from the album that Sheeran is a father now.

In the opening song “Tides,” he sings that he had been “too busy trying to chase the high and get the numbers up.” Some of the songs off this album are proof of that statement. Some are not.

Overall, “=” is just another Ed Sheeran album — nothing special, but nothing too bad.