Album review: Ed Sheeran – (Subtract)

Ed Sheeran’s latest album, -, pronounced ‘Subtract’, marks a shift from his usual upbeat and pop-infused sound, as you probably guessed from the negative vibe from subtract amidst all his other mathematical titles.

This fifth and final instalment of the aforementioned mathematical era reflects the tumultuous events in Sheeran’s personal life, leading to a more melancholic and heartfelt approach to songwriting. While the album presents a surprisingly close snapshot of Sheeran’s emotional struggles, will it still please those looking for his usual fare such as Galway Girl?

The album’s opening track, Boat, sets the emotional tone with its dramatic strings and Sheeran’s introspective lyrics. It becomes evident that ‘-’, unlike its predecessors, is primarily driven by sombre acoustic arrangements and mellow beats, courtesy of collaborator Aaron Dessner from The National. While Dessner’s production adds a certain depth and warmth to the songs, it occasionally veers into monotony, making some tracks feel too similar to one another.

In fairness to the tone of the album and people’s expectations, in Sheeran’s own candid album announcement, Sheeran confessed that he was no longer focused on crafting a record designed to please everyone, opting instead to create something honest and reflective of his current state – aligning himself with other fantastic redhead singer/songwriter Lewis Capaldi.

This honesty shines through the lyrics, particularly in tracks like ‘End Of Youth’, where Sheeran touches on themes of depression and the passage of time. Although the emotions are raw and relatable, the writing occasionally lacks the finesse and vivid metaphors found in Sheeran’s earlier work.

The standout track, ‘Dusty’, showcases Sheeran’s lyrical prowess as he reminisces about sharing cherished moments with his daughter through music. The lovely middle section, which could easily serve as a chorus in its own right, adds a powerful touch to the song. Similarly, Curtains brings a welcome change with its more pacey chorus and rock-inspired guitars. These tracks demonstrate Sheeran’s ability to connect with his audience through personal experiences, cementing his position as a master storyteller in the world of modern pop.


While Sheeran’s sincerity and vulnerability on ‘-’, are commendable, the album’s overall impact is hindered by a lack of diversity in sound. The majority of the songs follow a similar pattern, often feeling plodding and one-paced. This repetition may be reflective of the emotional turmoil Sheeran was experiencing during its creation, but it can leave listeners yearning for more dynamic and engaging compositions.

Some tracks, like ‘Life Goes On’, seem to borrow too heavily from other artists’ works, with a noticeable similarity to Tom Petty’s ‘Free Fallin’. This lack of originality, combined with Sheeran’s straightforward and at times clumsy writing, detracts from the album’s overall appeal. Despite moments of poignancy and insight, the album’s weaknesses prevent it from reaching the heights of Sheeran’s earlier musical achievements. There’s an argument to be made that these apparent similarities to other artist’s is only noticeable due to his hugely publicised copyright court case – but sometimes where there’s smoke…

It is evident that Sheeran has undergone a transformative journey during the creation of this album. His decision to open up about his struggles with depression and substance abuse on ‘End Of Youth’ is commendable, shedding light on important mental health issues. However, the album’s depth of emotion isn’t consistently matched with equally compelling musical arrangements, leading to an imbalance in the overall listening experience.

Ed Sheeran’s ‘-’, serves as a snapshot of an artist grappling with personal challenges and emotional upheaval. While the sincerity and authenticity of the album are admirable, its lack of musical diversity and occasional derivative moments limit its emotional impact. It feel hugely unfair writing about ‘how an artist should sing about depression’ as everyone who has been affected by it will feel it differently. However emotional baggage being displayed with production value is not enough to fully elevate the album to the standard set by his earlier works.

In conclusion, ‘-’, finds Ed Sheeran in a vulnerable and introspective state, revealing his struggles and pain through raw and honest songwriting. While there are moments of brilliance, such as ‘Dusty’ and ‘Curtains’, the album as a whole falls short in delivering a cohesive and captivating musical journey that we’re used to from the loop pedal genius of previous albums.

‘-’, may resonate with existing hardcore fans or those looking for a more subdued and contemplative side of Ed Sheeran, but it may leave others yearning for the infectious hooks and lyrical finesse of his earlier albums.






Author: Tom, Cardiff Store