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Album Review

Once upon a time, rock stars were reckless rebels, bigger-than-life iconoclasts who did whatever they wanted … then left trashed hotel rooms and tales of debauchery in their wake.

But let's face it, that was a long time ago.

The biggest mainstream rock stars today—if we can even call them that, really—embody a different set of values. They're not squeaky clean, mind you. Still, unmitigated hedonism often takes a backseat to values like sensitivity. Authenticity. Tenderness. Honesty. Brokenness.

Perhaps no one embodies this new breed of "rock" star like English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, whose sky-high falsetto, lumpy-and-disheveled everyman look, acoustic stylings and confessional approach have made him one of the biggest stars of this kinder, gentler musical millennium.

And all those attributes are once again on display on Sheeran's third studio effort, ÷ (which stands for Divide, lest you think I dropped something on the keyboard and didn't notice it).

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

"Eraser" expresses disappointment and disillusionment about fame. Sheeran sings, "I need to get in the right mind and clear myself up/Instead, I look in the mirror, questioning what I've become." Later, he adds, "I used to think that nothing could be better than touring the world with my songs/I chased the picture-perfect life, I think they painted it wrong." Then we hear an allusion to the devil ("And every day that Satan tempts me, I try to take it in my stride") and another to 1 Timothy 6:10 ("I think that money is the root of all evil, and fame is hell"). Sheeran also says that he "learned to sing inside the Lord's house," and that he wants to make his dad proud.

"Supermarket Flowers," will get the waterworks going as Sheeran sings about his mum's death and his belief that she's now in heaven: "Hallelujah, you were an angel in the shape of my mum/ … Spread your wings, and I know/That when God took you back, he said, 'Hallelujah, you're home.'" Deluxe Edition bonus track "Nancy Mulligan," meanwhile, tells the dramatic story of Sheeran's grandparents' 60-year marriage.

"Castle on the Hill" finds Sheeran longing to return to his hometown ("I know I've grown/I can't wait to go home"). "Dive" instructs someone to exercise integrity when it comes how she relates to him ("So don't call me 'baby'/Unless you mean it/Don't tell me you need me/If you don't believe it").

Dreamy, romantic "Perfect" waxes eloquent about a new love interest with whom the singer imagines he might spend his life ("Well, I found this woman, stronger than anyone I know/She shares my dreams, I hope that someday I'll share her home/ … I see my future in your eyes"). "Hearts Don't Break Around Here" extolls feelings of safety and wholeness in the presence of one's beloved ("I feel safe when you're holding me near/Love the way that you conquer your fear/ … She is the lighthouse in the night that will safely guide me home"). Still more gooey gushing fills "How Would You Feel (Paean)": "How would you feel, if I told you I loved you?/It's just something that I want to do/I'll be taking my time, spending my life/Falling deeper in love with you."

"What Do I Know" recognizes the power of love and looks forward to leaving a positive heritage for the next generation: "I know when I have children they will know what it means/And I pass on these things my family's given to me/Just love and understanding, positivity." Sheeran also observes rightly, "Love can change the world in a moment," and adds, "Ain't got a soapbox I can stand upon/But God gave me a stage, a guitar and a song." As far as what really matters in life, he suggests it's about more than just looking good ("I'm all for people following their dreams/Just remember, life's is more than fittin' in your jeans").

Objectionable Content

On "Shape of You" Sheeran sings about meeting a young woman at a bar ("Me and my friends at the table doing shots/ … You come over and start up a conversation with just me"). That leads to sensual dancing ("Say, boy, let's not talk too much/Grab on my waist and put that body on me"), followed by night of casual sex ("And last night you were in my room/And now my bedsheets smell like you"). The chorus further objectifies her as Sheeran coos repeatedly, "I'm in love with your body." A relationship eventually ensues ("One we in, we let the story begin/We're going out on our first date"), though physical intimacy has obviously come before an emotional connection. Several other songs also reference kissing (though things don't seem to go much past that in those tracks).

"Eraser" likely refers to using alcohol to numb or "erase" pain. Likewise, the breakup ballad "Happier" finds a man "nursing an empty bottle" when his ex is doing better without him than he's doing without her.

"Castle on the Hill" reminisces and romanticizes teen recklessness: "Fifteen years old and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes/Running from the law through the backfields and getting drunk with my friends/ … We'd buy cheap spirits and drink them straight/Me and my friends haven't thrown up in so long." More alcohol (whiskey, wine) and cigarettes turn up on "Galway Girl." "New Man" mentions drinking champagne and suggests that an ex is cheating on the guy she's currently with.

Bonus track "Nancy Mulligan" minimizes the subject of religion ("She and I went on the run/Don't care about religion").

Summary Advisory

Ed Sheeran's latest is hardly without problems. Alcohol flows freely—sometimes in the service of dulling heartache—and there's one relationship that starts off as a one-night stand.

Despite those concerns, though, there's a surprising amount of sweetness and sentimentality here, too. Sheeran loves his parents, and he looks forward to having children. He talks repeatedly of loving one woman for a lifetime. And there are even a handful of nods in God's direction, too.

For an album titled ÷, then, it's not quite as divided by content issues as I suspected it might be after listening to the leering lead sing "Shape of You." And in some significant ways, it seems Sheeran aspires to be someone whose heart is undivided, at least when it comes to love … even if he hasn't quite gotten there yet.

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

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