Ed Sheeran Subtract review: A triumphant return-to-form

4 mins read

Ed Sheeran released his new album Subtract on Friday May 5.

The final addition to his mathematical series of albums, it is possibly his best album as of yet, willing to sacrifice chart potential and popularity for a more low-key, acoustic experience centred around trauma, mental health, and his wife’s cancer battle.

Comparisons have been drawn between Subtract and Taylor Swift’s 2020 release folklore. Both albums are produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner, who is proving himself to be one of the key producers to work with in today’s pop/alt-pop landscape.

However, while folklore was a surprise departure from Swift’s signature pop sound, Sheeran has worked more tangentially to Subtract’s sound throughout his career, like on his album +. But, after two successful eras of radio-friendly pop with Divide and =, this album is very much a return to the artist’s roots and strong-point.

Opening with single Boat, centred around verses with a fierce guitar and a softer, slightly more hopeful chorus, sees Sheeran battling with his depression while reassuring himself that the “waves won’t break my boat.”

Lead single, Eyes Closed, wouldn’t feel out-of-place on = but unfortunately is one of the weakest tracks on Subtract, a ‘safe’ pop, radio tune on an album otherwise more willing to take risks.

The chorus, ‘eye-eye-eye-eyes, eye-eye-eye-eyes closed’, feels repetitive and uninspired when compared to the following track, Life Goes On: ‘So tell me how, how our life goes on with you gone, I suppose I sink like a stone, if you leave me now, all the stumps will roll.’

Dusty is a song one can see being polarising for fans. Akin to tracks like Sandman from =, its a cutesy mid-tempo song that may not suit some fans taste. However, it’s unique Beatles-y middle-eight is an interesting sound from Sheeran.

End Of Youth is the album highlight with some of the most accomplished, well-written lyrics of Ed’s career. It’s a truly haunting song with some brutally honest lyrics: ‘We spend our youth with arms and hearts wide open. Then the dark gets in, and that’s the end of youth.’

A far cry from the Ed Sheeran who penned Galway Girl. This is also the album where Sheeran finally drops the rap gimmick and it works wonders – while the verses here still have elements of it, it’s the best it’s ever been.

There aren’t many dud songs on the album and the run from Colourblind to No Strings contains some of the better B-sides of his career. Sheeran isn’t an artist many would call ‘an album artist’, but this is the closest he’s come to a cohesive body of work you want to play as a whole, rather than individually or as part of a 2010’s pop playlist.

Closer, The Hills of Aberfeldy is stunning and has some of the same celtic roots as Nancy Mulligan. By far, one of his best closers with some beautiful, evocative lyrics: ‘but darling we could fall in love, ‘neath the hills of Aberfeldy.’

Thanks to Aaron Desner’s immaculate production and Ed Sheeran’s heart-felt, sincere lyricism and special relationship with this material, – is his best album since + and maybe even the best of his career.

Featured Image Credit: Ed Sheeran

+ posts

Film & Media & Journalism Student
Here to review, discuss & celebrate all things film.
contact me: bem00218@students.stir.ac.uk

%d bloggers like this: