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  • Cheyenne Johnson

Album Review: "Subtract" - Ed Sheeran

Photo Credits: Asylum/Atlantic Records

Following on the heels of his recent lawsuit victory, Ed Sheeran has released his newest album, Subtract. The album brings an era of Sheeran’s career to a close, being the last of his albums to don a mathematical symbol in its name. It was released May 5, 2023 by Asylum and Atlantic Records, being the fifth album to be a part of Sheeran's mathematical series. Contrasting the artist’s previous installments, Subtract is steeped in pain, sorrow, and heartache as Sheeran takes us on a journey through his recent hardships.


Salt Water

Eyes Closed

Life Goes On


End of Youth







No Strings

The Hills of Aberfeldy

Sheeran has enjoyed much success since his music industry debut. The 32-year-old singer-songwriter has made waves in the pop world with tracks like "Thinking Out Loud," "Shape of You," and "Bad Habits." He has a charming, folk-pop sound that is both humble and brilliant, singing tracks with a simple, charismatic voice that you might hear belting tunes in your local bar. While Sheeran's previous albums all feature tracks destined for commercial success, Subtract seems to be going in a different direction with the artist focusing on writing songs for himself rather than others. He recently lost one of his closest friends, Jamal Edwards, and faced a cancer scare with his wife, Cherry Seaborn, during her second pregnancy. On top of these life-altering events, Sheeran had been under scrutiny, battling another lawsuit involving his track "Thinking Out Loud" and alleged copyright infringement of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On." Stressors like these are enough to make anyone break, leaving Sheeran to turn to music as an outlet and giving us a vulnerable look into his life with Subtract.

Subtract hits home for many of us, articulating the highs and lows that come with battling depression. We feel the pain Sheeran has intertwined in songs throughout the album, almost drowning in it with him. Despite the feeling of fighting an uphill battle, Sheeran reminds us that "there's beauty when it's bleak," a line used in Subtract's opening track, "Boat." Being a primarily acoustic, ballad-driven album, the first few songs are slow and scaled back. "Boat," "Salt Water," and "Eyes Closed" all feature soft, beautiful melodic material. Though a lighter track, "Eyes Closed" is filled with catchy melodies and an upbeat rhythm similar to some of Sheeran's more commercial pop hits.

Emphasizing the pain Sheeran has been going through, tracks like "Life Goes On" and "End of Youth" depict anguish in their heart-wrenching melodies. "Life Goes On" beautifully outlines the frustration and hurt he feels from losing his friend, Jamal. Sheeran's voice is raw and raspy as he belts out his grief in the chorus of "Life Goes On," making this a cathartic listen for anyone feeling a pain like this. This intense emotion is one of the highlights of the album, breaking away from some of the calmer tracks.

Though the album is comprised of many melancholy songs, there are moments on the album where things don't seem so bleak. Sheeran's pain seems to plateau on tracks like "Dusty." "Dusty" is a chill, laid-back entry on Subtract, giving us a break from some of the heavier emotions Sheeran displays. Other tracks like "Spark" and "Curtains" give us a break from the bleak, intertwining hope into the album. Both tracks feel like a light flickering in the dark, showcasing more optimistic melodies and lyrics.

Sheeran quickly brings us back to the more mellow, acoustic vibe of the album with the songs "Borderline," "Vega," "Sycamore," "No Strings," and "The Hills of Aberfeldy." Each of these tracks are lovely, showing off Sheeran's ability to give us a never-ending supply of quality ballads. These tracks feature pleasing, beautiful melodies and harmonies, great for those searching for calmer tracks or those wanting to add to their acoustic playlists. "The Hills of Aberfeldy" gives a classic Sheeran folk twist on the album, standing out amongst the many ballads on Subtract.

The one track that stood out to me the most was "Colourblind." This is one of the most beautiful entries on the album, reminiscent of some of Sheeran's previous hit ballads. The track instantly reminded me of "Perfect," utilizing luscious harmonies and a rhythm that's meant for slow dancing. Feeling like love incarnate, I wouldn't be surprised if "Colourblind" is the next song to be used in many weddings to come.

Though Subtract seems to be getting mixed reviews and are leaving some unimpressed, I feel this album is a brilliant addition to Sheeran's catalog, and his vulnerability on the album is something to be admired. Each track is stunning in its own way, and the album has something for everyone to love. As many of us have battled with depression and grief before, Subtract gives us an outlet and something we can relate to. Not including a clear hit on the album was a bold move, but this album feels like a perfect conclusion to Sheeran's mathematical albums and has an essence of closure.

Written By Cheyenne Johnson

*copyright not intended. Fair use act, section 107.


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