Ed Sheeran shows his versatility yet again with genre-defying album ‘=’

A barrage of major album releases in the wake of the pandemic has led to the busiest winter schedule in years, with successful offers from world-famous artists like Coldplay, ABBA and Adele all arriving at time to compete for the Christmas First Place mega-sale.

To this pop game of thrones we can add scruffy troubadour Ed Sheeran, back from paternity leave with his fourth solo album, adorned with another math symbol. After +, x and we have reached = (Equals). You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to determine precisely what Sheeran thinks he’s equal.

The album begins in an explosion of rock action of unusual strength, with striking percussion, powerful guitars and declarative vocals: “I grew up and I am a father now / Everything has changed but I am still the even one way or another. Which is a good lyrical summary of what he has in store. Composed with regular writing partner Johnny McDaid of Snow Patrol, the opening song Tides echoes the epic sweep of the anthemic work of this Northern Irish rock band.

But before listeners got to grips with this more muscular version of Sheeran’s song, he switched to the sleek 21stthe century-old pop dance of recent chart-topping Shivers and Bad Habits, the giant chorus-singing acoustic hymns of First Time, the 80s rapid comeback Overpass Graffiti and the intimate folk ballad of The Joker and the Queen.

What connects the songs, aside from Sheeran’s high and supple voice, is that each has such catchy verses that listeners will join them before he even hits the dizzying choruses.

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