Ed Sheeran: = (Asylum) 

Verdict: Makes the most of its sums right


After leaving fans waiting for two years, Ed Sheeran is back with a new album called = (Equals), continuing the maths-based titles that started ten years ago with + (Plus), followed by x (Multiply) in 2014 and 2017’s (Divide). Having sold 150million albums worldwide, his fortune equals a reported £220million. ADRIAN THRILLS reviews the new figures. 

Britain’s most popular male pop star, Big Boy, was trying to spread some much-needed post lockdown cheer when he chose Bad Habits for his comeback single in June.

Ed Sheeran was originally planning to release a slow acoustic number. However, he changed his mind and realized that his fans would prefer something more euphoric when the world opens up again.

He may have felt the exact same way as he was making plans for his new solo album. However, his mood dramatically changed when he tested positive at Covid-19.

Coming of age: After leaving fans waiting for two years, Ed Sheeran is back with a new album called = (Equals), continuing the maths-based titles that started ten years ago

Coming of age: After leaving fans waiting for two years, Ed Sheeran is back with a new album called = (Equals), continuing the maths-based titles that started ten years ago

With all in-person promotion on hold, he’s now in quarantine with his one-year-old daughter, Lyra, who has been given the same diagnosis.

However, it is unlikely that his seclusion will have a negative impact on the prospects of = (Equals), the fourth album to be named after a math symbol and the latest major release in an autumn blockbuster still awaiting the return Adele, Taylor Swift, and Abba.

Sheeran has remained out of the spotlight since his Divide tour ended in the summer 2019 but his pop music continues to resonate.

For him, the past two-years have been a time for change. As well as becoming a dad and turning 30, he’s married childhood sweetheart Cherry Seaborn and mourned the loss of his friend and mentor Michael Gudinski, an Australian music executive whose memory he honoured on recent single Visiting Hours.

This week Sheeran tested positive for Covid-19. But despite Sheeran's current medical woes, ADRIAN THRILLS, assesses that Equals feels like a timely tonic to kick-start pop's autumn bonanza. Pictured: The album cover

Sheeran was tested positive for Covid-19 this week. ADRIAN TRILLS, however, feels that Equals, despite Sheeran’s medical woes, is a timely and appropriate tonic to kick-start pop’s autumn bonanza. Pictured: The album cover

It’s no wonder he sees Equals as a coming-of-age story.

With full-blown band arrangements to the fore, it’s also a record that buries for good the notion of Sheeran as a purely acoustic performer. It was clear, on the Divide tour, that he had taken his guitar-and-loop-pedal template as far as he could. 

Equals updates his sound and expands it without affecting his ability to create TikTok-friendly hooks. 

I was 15 years old when I became a father.

By Emma Powell Showbusiness Correspondent

Shed Sheeran: The star, pictured, with his wife Cherry Seaborn

Shed Sheeran, the star, is pictured with Cherry Seaborn

Ed Sheeran credits his daughter for helping him lose five stone after he had gained so much weight from overindulging on chicken wings, alcohol, and other junk food.

Lyra, the singer who had Cherry Seaborn as his wife last year, weighed in at over 15 stone and never exercised. But he told The Sun: ‘Since becoming a dad I’ve become quite clean-living. I was 15-and-a-half stone at my peak and I think I’m ten-and-a-half now.’ 

Sheeran, 30, and Lyra have tested positive for Covid and are isolating at his £3.7million Suffolk estate.

Appearing on tomorrow’s Jonathan Ross Show by Zoom, he said: ‘It’s actually quite nice. I get ten days uninterrupted with my daughter.’ 

Tides and Be Right Now, two rock-heavy songs, are the album’s closing tracks.

 Like eight more of the 14 songs, they were co-written with Snow Patrol guitarist Johnny McDaid, whose penchant for bracing, Celtic rock is one of the defining features of Equals.

Is Ed becoming Sheeran Patrol? Not quite.

Amid the heartland guitars and drums, there are some characteristic romantic ballads and nods to modern dance-pop: Sheeran’s other main collaborators here are his composer brother Matthew, who handles the string arrangements, and London producer Fred Gibson, a Brian Eno protege who adds lean electronics.

The joys of married living are immense. Overpass Graffiti is a love song, as is The Joker And The Queen. The latter salutes the singer’s other half for choosing him, the joker, rather than the many kings on offer. 

Unashamedly syrupy, it’s also guaranteed to enrage his detractors, although it is hard to deny its catchiness — something that can’t be said for lesser tracks such as 2-step and Can’t Stop The Rain.

First Times, a second love song, is more complex. Set in the singer’s near-empty dressing room after he had become the first solo artist to headline Wembley Stadium without a band in 2015, it captures both his sense of disorientation after the crowds had gone home and a yearning for the simpler things in life: ‘I thought it would feel different… 80,000 people singing with me.’

New fatherhood gets a look-in, too, on the nursery rhyme-like Sandman, complete with flute, recorder, marimba and glockenspiel, and the electronic Leave Your Life — slight on first hearing but more addictive with repeated listens.

Whether there’s anything with the capacity to become as ubiquitous as The A Team, Thinking Out Loud or Perfect, the high points of his three previous solo albums, remains to be seen.

But despite Sheeran’s current medical woes, Equals feels like a timely tonic to kick-start pop’s autumn bonanza.