REVIEW: Ed Sheeran’s “=” fails to deliver creative lyrical content

(Album artwork for Ed Sheeran's "=" album/Photo from Atlantic Records)

By Katrina Liu
Boston University News Service

With a history of constructing lyrics that take my breath away and inspire me with their simplicity and ‘wow’ factor, Ed Sheeran’s latest album “=” falls short lyrically.

Each time Sheeran’s released a new album or song, I’ve always looked forward to hearing his lyrics. In fact, his 2014 song “One” is one of my favorite works of all time. My heart aches as he sweetly and honestly sings lyrics like “​​Take my hand and my heart and soul/I will only have these eyes for you/And you know, everything changes but we’ll be strangers if we see this through,” with the simple acoustic riff accompanying in the background.

There aren’t any lyrics on “=” that make me feel that way. Or, at least, not yet. 

Some of them have potential. In “Overpass Graffiti,” Sheeran sings about how a past love can’t seem to leave his mind. If the song had standout lyrics, they’d be “We’ll never fade like graffiti on the overpass. And I know time may change the way you think of us. But I’ll remember the way we were, you were the first full stop love that will never leave.” 

Sheeran’s use of poignant imagery isn’t new. One of his strong points as a lyricist has always been his ability to plant vivid imagery in listeners’ heads — the infamous “it’s too cold outside for angels to fly” from “The A Team” comes immediately to mind.

But while these lines are sweet and simple, they’re missing the subtle hint of magic that  is often associated with Sheeran. 

=” is also littered with cliches. In “Collide,” he sings “because the world looks better when I’m by your side/When you and I collide/you bring me to life.” While the sentiment is incredibly charming, it’s not one we haven’t heard before, and we hear them over and over again as the album goes on. 

Perhaps this trajectory toward overused comparisons and tropes has been in the works for a while, though. I also struggled to find lyrics in Sheeran’s previous album, “÷,” that wowed me. 

The album’s instrumental and musical variety is what saved it despite its mundane lyrics. As Sheeran’s career has only grown during that time, maybe we should’ve seen “=” lack of luster coming.

In “Sandman,” Sheeran sings to his newborn daughter. “And though there’s rain outside/you’ll be warm and dry/The thunder and the lightning won’t hurt you now/So go to sleep, my love/hanging out with the sandman,” is one part that sticks out to me, since it makes me bop my head and say “aw” out loud. So I’ll let it slide, even though it’s not very creative. 

Still though, it falls short compared to his past work. 

As a fan of his for many years, it’s nice to see that being a new husband and father has him writing less about heartbreak and more about happiness. However, it seems as though that spark of magic he had has been diminished.

Pockets of excellence are few and hard to find. I miss having to rewind to listen to a line again because it’s vague enough to be interpreted differently depending on the person but specific enough to be able to understand.

My friend once said that being in love is either detrimental or substantial in a musician’s career. With “=,” I can’t help but believe in that sentiment. 

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