ADRIAN THRILLS: Ed Sheeran's latest work = a tonic for our times

To sum up, Ed Sheeran’s latest work = a tonic for our times: ADRIAN THRILLS says the pop sensation’s new album gets most of its numbers right

Ed Sheeran: = (Asylum) 

Verdict: Gets most of its sums right


After leaving fans waiting for two years, Ed Sheeran is back with a new album called = (Equals), continuing the maths-based titles that started ten years ago with + (Plus), followed by x (Multiply) in 2014 and 2017’s (Divide). Having sold 150million albums worldwide, his fortune equals a reported £220million. Here, ADRIAN THRILLS, assesses the new numbers. 

Britain’s biggest male pop star was hoping to spread some much-needed post-lockdown cheer when he chose Bad Habits as his comeback single in June.

Ed Sheeran had been thinking about releasing a slow acoustic number, but changed his mind, reckoning that his fans would appreciate something more euphoric as the world opened up again.

He may have been feeling the same as he was finessing plans for his latest solo album, although his mood shifted dramatically this week when he tested positive for Covid-19.

Coming of age: After leaving fans waiting for two years, Ed Sheeran is back with a new album called = (Equals), continuing the maths-based titles that started ten years ago

With all in-person promotion on hold, he’s now in quarantine with his one-year-old daughter, Lyra, who has been given the same diagnosis.

Not that seclusion is going to impact too heavily on the prospects for = (Equals), the fourth of his albums to be named after a maths symbol, and the latest major release in a blockbuster autumn still awaiting the return of Abba, Adele and Taylor Swift.

Sheeran has kept away from the spotlight since his Divide tour finished in the summer of 2019, but his everyman pop continues to strike a chord.

The past two years have been a time of change for him. As well as becoming a dad and turning 30, he’s married childhood sweetheart Cherry Seaborn and mourned the loss of his friend and mentor Michael Gudinski, an Australian music executive whose memory he honoured on recent single Visiting Hours.

This week Sheeran tested positive for Covid-19. But despite Sheeran’s current medical woes, ADRIAN THRILLS, assesses that Equals feels like a timely tonic to kick-start pop’s autumn bonanza. Pictured: The album cover

It’s no wonder he sees Equals as a coming-of-age story.

With full-blown band arrangements to the fore, it’s also a record that buries for good the notion of Sheeran as a purely acoustic performer. It was clear, on the Divide tour, that he had taken his guitar-and-loop-pedal template as far as he could. 

Equals updates and expands his sound without detracting from his ability to come up with TikTok friendly hooks. 

I was 15st… until I became a dad!

By Emma Powell Showbusiness Correspondent

Shed Sheeran: The star, pictured, with his wife Cherry Seaborn

Ed Sheeran has credited his daughter with helping him to shed five stone after he piled on the pounds gorging on chicken wings and alcohol.

The singer, who had Lyra with his wife Cherry Seaborn last year, ballooned to over 15 stone and never exercised. But he told The Sun: ‘Since becoming a dad I’ve become quite clean-living. I was 15-and-a-half stone at my peak and I think I’m ten-and-a-half now.’ 

Sheeran, 30, and Lyra have tested positive for Covid and are isolating at his £3.7million Suffolk estate.

Appearing on tomorrow’s Jonathan Ross Show by Zoom, he said: ‘It’s actually quite nice. I get ten days uninterrupted with my daughter.’ 

The album is bookended by two guitar-heavy rock numbers, Tides and Be Right Now.

 Like eight more of the 14 songs, they were co-written with Snow Patrol guitarist Johnny McDaid, whose penchant for bracing, Celtic rock is one of the defining features of Equals.

So, is Ed turning into Sheeran Patrol? Not quite.

Amid the heartland guitars and drums, there are some characteristic romantic ballads and nods to modern dance-pop: Sheeran’s other main collaborators here are his composer brother Matthew, who handles the string arrangements, and London producer Fred Gibson, a Brian Eno protege who adds lean electronics.

The joys of married life loom large. Overpass Graffiti and The Joker And The Queen are straight-up love songs. The latter salutes the singer’s other half for choosing him, the joker, rather than the many kings on offer. 

Unashamedly syrupy, it’s also guaranteed to enrage his detractors, although it is hard to deny its catchiness — something that can’t be said for lesser tracks such as 2-step and Can’t Stop The Rain.

Another love song, First Times, is more nuanced. Set in the singer’s near-empty dressing room after he had become the first solo artist to headline Wembley Stadium without a band in 2015, it captures both his sense of disorientation after the crowds had gone home and a yearning for the simpler things in life: ‘I thought it would feel different… 80,000 people singing with me.’

New fatherhood gets a look-in, too, on the nursery rhyme-like Sandman, complete with flute, recorder, marimba and glockenspiel, and the electronic Leave Your Life — slight on first hearing but more addictive with repeated listens.

Whether there’s anything with the capacity to become as ubiquitous as The A Team, Thinking Out Loud or Perfect, the high points of his three previous solo albums, remains to be seen.

But despite Sheeran’s current medical woes, Equals feels like a timely tonic to kick-start pop’s autumn bonanza.  

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