“Equals,” by Ed Sheeran (Atlantic Records)
Huge things have happened to Ed Sheeran since his last solo album — marriage, loss, fatherhood. They’re all on the new collection “Equals,” an album that sweetly sounds like a man who now has all he needs.
“I have grown up/I am a father now/Everything has changed/But I am still the same somehow,” Sheeran sings on the revealing opening song, “Tides.” Don’t believe it: He has changed.
Gone is the heartbreak and bitterness that gave a sly edge to songs on previous albums. Gone is much of the insecurity that made Sheeran so relatable. That guy you imagined down at the pub with his mates enjoying a pint and a packet of crisps is now home, shutting out the world.
The bulk of “Equals” are love songs to his wife, Cherry Seaborn, like the unabashedly romantic “First Times,” when he sings: “The greatest thing that I have achieved/Is four little words, down on one knee.”
The album is almost like a scrapbook looking back at their private moments: sleeping on the beach, red wine shared in Brooklyn, the time the car stalled in the snow. For Sheeran, his business — even playing in front of 80,000 people — doesn’t have the same thrill.
Sheeran veers into sappy with “The Joker and the Queen,” “Overpass Graffiti” and “Love in Slow Motion,” destined for adult contemporary charts. If you liked his previous hit “Perfect,” this is more of the same. There are thick storms of violins and cellos throughout.
Their child — daughter Lyra, born in August 2020 — inspired the lullaby “Sandman,” where dad sings “Loving you is easy, but life will not always be.” The song “Visiting Hours” mourns a friend’s passing, just as “Supermarket Flowers” on his last album “Divide” was a lovely farewell to a grandparent.
Most of the 14 tracks of the album were co-written with regular collaborator Johnny McDaid of Snow Patrol and McDaid co-produced with UK pop producer FRED. Sheeran’s brother, Matthew, arranged strings on two tunes. There are no big-name collaborations or features, unusual these days.
The first singles — the bubbly “Shivers” with hand-claps and the silky club tune “Bad Habit” — hint at a more danceable Sheeran and indeed there are more bangers here: The murky “2step,” showing off his vocal dexterity, and “Stop the Rain” which flirts with an environmental message.
But “Equals” doesn’t stray far from home and the woman he adores. “The world hurts less when I’m by your side,” he tells her on “Collide.” On “Be Right Now,” he sings: “There’s nothing but the space we’re in, the hurry and the noise shut out.”
So let’s tiptoe away and leave him to his domestic bliss.
By The Associated Press