Ed Sheeran opens his heart in ‘Equals,’ follows formula

Angela Lim, Life and Arts Reporter

Four years after the release of ÷ (Divide), Ed Sheeran dropped = (Equals) on Friday, another addition to his mathematically-inspired series of albums, which also includes + (Plus) and  x (Multiply). The album showcases his signature lyrics, but ventures into other genres as well.

As a singer-songwriter with four Grammy wins and 14 nominations in his own right, as well as composition credits in songs by major artists, including Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, Sheeran has proven himself as one of the most prominent figures in the music industry today.

From serenading his wife in the acoustic “First Times” to lulling his daughter to sleep in “Sandman,” the chart-topping artist laces his heart and soul into Equals, a culmination of his most precious moments and milestones.

The LP starts off with a glorious opener, “Tides,” wherein Sheeran sends a message of reassurance that he hasn’t changed over time. As the title suggests, the track moves like a fickle, vigorous current. Sheeran delivers a riveting melody thanks to a capella pre-choruses and dynamic guitars.

Meanwhile, “Overpass Graffiti” stands out as a groovy synth-pop jam similar in style to The Weeknd, putting another genre under Sheeran’s belt. The rhythm swings with an addictive bass.

In “The Joker And The Queen,” which is reminiscent of Sheeran’s earlier discography, the piano sings along with the artist’s gentle vocals. This cinematic ballad references cards in its lyrics almost excessively, with Sheeran singing, “I showed you my hand and you still let me win” and “When I fold, you see the best in me.” Still, the track captivates the audience with every listen, its grand ambience making the song fit for any wedding playlist.

While the diverse sounds of Equals are appealing to everyone, the album also lends itself to bland tracks. The lead pre-release singles that soared and stayed on the Billboard charts, “Bad Habits” and “Shivers,” attract the general public as dance and pop songs with superficial lyrics, making them easy listening. Although Sheeran attempts to subtly vary textures, the songs eventually become overshadowed by the multitude of tracks in the same genre.

Other underwhelming aspects of the album include “Collide,” which has a repetitive voice sample and drum track at the back and “2step,” a trap-infused song with “Galway Girl”-esque lyrics and rapping.

On the surface, Equals represents Ed Sheeran’s maturity as an artist who continues to explore while remaining authentically himself. However, he executes this by sticking with a noticeable formula from his previous albums in terms of themes, lyrics and structure. The answer to his mathematical equation still remains uncertain.

3.5 diamond rings out of 5