By Amanda Wicks
Ed Sheeran returned today (March 3rd) with his third studio album, ÷ (pronounced “divide”). Arriving three years after his last release, x, Sheeran tackles heartbreak and love in all its modern-day shapes and sizes, though that subject matter doesn’t always have to be romantic. On “Supermarket Flowers,” he sings about losing his grandmother.
At a time when pop stars are pushing the envelope in various ways, whether its Taylor Swift’s darker “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” with Zayn Malik or Katy Perry’s “purposeful pop,” Sheeran hasn’t shown the same kind of growth. But his unquestionable songwriting skills and his ability to pen a love song ensure his place among those other names. Here are the five best songs on Sheeran’s ÷.
“How Would You Feel (Paen)”
Sheeran is the reigning king of sentimental love songs thanks to his co-written ballad “Thinking Out Loud.” On “How Would You Feel (Paen),” he once again shows off why with a quiet song oscillating between his impassioned vocals and piano. But it’s the John Mayer-like guitar solo at the bridge that gives “How Would You Feel” an edge and shows Sheeran is ready to push himself in new directions, albeit slightly.
With a series of romantic failures in the back of his mind, Sheeran lays a plea at his new lover’s feet: Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. “Dive” begins soulfully—with an electric guitar and drums setting the mood—while Sheeran’s voice climbs to frantic heights as he admits he can’t take another heartbreak. “So don’t call me baby/ Unless you mean it/ Don’t tell me you need me/ If you don’t believe it,” he sings on the chorus.
“I took the supermarket flowers from the windowsill/ Threw the day-old tea from the cup/ Packed up the photo album Matthew had made/ Memories of a life that’s been loved,” Sheeran sings in the opening verse. An aching, raw song that begins quietly, Sheeran cathartically shares the devastating pain he felt when his grandmother passed away and honors her memory with his words.
“Shape of You”
One of the first two singles (along with “Castle on the Hill”) off ÷, “Shape of You” is a stand out for the way Sheeran juxtaposes light synths with heavy bass to produce a soulful pop song. Beginning with a xylophone-like synth, the song builds into an addictive choral explosion thanks to male backup singers and bass. The surprising turn gives “Shape of You” the weight it needs, which is likely why it’s been atop Billboard‘s Hot 100 since its release.
“Bibia Be Ye Ye”
Sheeran takes a page out of Paul Simon’s book with “Bibia Be Ye Ye,” an African-inspired song that comes across in the rhythmic guitar work informing the song’s structure. “Someone told me always say what’s on your mind/ And I am only being honest with you, I/ I get lonely and make mistakes from time to time,” he sings on the chorus. A chorus backs up him to fill out the sound and turn the chorus into a chant.