"Just a ginger country boy with a guitar who’s done good?"Christopher Johnson

I think it’s important to disclose now that I am not writing this review as an ‘Ed Sheeran fan.’ I’m not particularly interested in how he managed to lose his ‘hiatus flab’ so quickly, or whether Princess Beatrice really did cut his face with a ceremonial sword while attempting to knight James Blunt. Nor am I especially ecstatic that he will be headlining this year’s Glastonbury Festival. Despite all of this, I’ve been listening to ÷ on repeat for the last two weeks. You could say, therefore, that I’m living proof that one doesn’t need to buy into Ed-mania in order to enjoy his music, and herein lies the key to his success.

The fact is, Sheeran’s latest album is not just a great Ed Sheeran album; it’s a great album full stop. Its success in the charts (in the second week of March, Sheeran held nine out of the top 10 spaces in the UK singles chart) would not have been so impressive were this not the case. The same can be said of other big names such as Adele, Beyoncé and the late David Bowie. Their musical prowess is such that they are able to create chart-toppers which transcend trends and fandoms. The wide mixture of styles on ÷ means that its songs slip seamlessly into any playlist and are suited to any occasion, whether it be pres or revision, and it’s for this reason that even humble non-fans like myself can get on board.

The cynics among us may argue that Sheeran’s primary aim in returning to the music scene was chart domination, and that ÷ does no more than follow a meticulously devised commercial formula. It’s certainly true that this album is more poppy than his earlier work, with tracks such as ‘Shape of You’ almost completely lacking the acoustic and emotional feel which has made Sheeran so famous. It would also be reasonable to argue that the eclectic mixture of styles featured on ÷, which even includes traditional Irish music, makes it difficult to identify any kind of distinctive ‘Sheeran-ness’ running through the album.

“The wide mixture of styles on ÷ means that its songs slip seamlessly into any playlist and are suited to any occasion”

Having said this, alongside the chart-toppers ‘Galway Girl’ and ‘Castle on the Hill’ and crowd-pleasers ‘Barcelona’ and ‘What Do I Know’, the album is interspersed with personal tracks such as the tear-jerking ‘Supermarket Flowers’ and the defiant ‘Eraser’. It is through the lyrics of these tracks that Sheeran puts his unique stamp on ÷. His home county of Suffolk, his family, and his struggle to break into the music business are repeated themes reminding us that Ed Sheeran is not, deep down, a chart-topping machine; he’s just a ginger country boy with a guitar who’s done good. At least that’s what his ‘I-slept-through-my-alarm-and-pulled-on-yesterday’s clothes’ aesthetic would have us believe.

What Sheeran lacks in the fashion department, however, he makes up for in raw musical talent, proof of which can be found in his live performances. Whether on stage or in a radio studio, his live vocals are the envy of pop artists the world over. His ability to make acoustic versions of his songs sound just as impressive, if not better, than the album versions is astonishing. Therefore, while I still feel that Sheeran’s music is better suited to a Year 11 disco than the Pyramid Stage, there’s no doubt that his Glastonbury performance will have us all Irish jigging and singing along, however reluctantly. If he brings out secret weapon Stormzy for a rendition of ‘Shape of ’, I doubt the muddied crowd will be able to contain themselves