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Ed Sheeran - Autumn Variations (Album Review)

Wednesday, 04 October 2023 Written by Jo Higgs

Photo: Annie Leibovitz

‘Autumn Variations’ teased a return to the quirkily charming (albeit still reasonably irritating to many) pop-folk of Ed Sheeran’s emergence – the cover resembles his debut EP, ‘You Need Me’, and Aaron Dessner of The National, though a prior collaborator who failed to make ‘Subtract’ a likeable record, is a quality producer. Furthermore, signalling the completion of the increasingly gimmicky mathematical symbol album series can only be a plus (which is also, by far, the best album of that run). 

Amazing represents the inherent melody writing skills of the Halifax-born musician without truly taking the song anywhere. Thankfully, its successor in the running order, Plastic Bag, is a strong effort full of pleasant guitar work, Dessner’s deft touches, and heartfelt lyrics that, as an increasing rarity, aren’t made annoying by Sheeran’s obsession with hinging the structure of each verse on a single phonetic rhyme. 

A minute into the passable indie-pop of American Town, it changes to a different vocal take (a standard practice, of course) in a questionably obvious manner that jars so much that it distracts and thus sedates the next 30 seconds of an under-written verse.

Worse than that, as demonstrated by its repetition a minute later, this was the result of a thought-out creative decision. 

England is at best a rather grey and pointless ode to the landscapes of Sheeran’s country, and at worst a strange brand of subtle political propaganda promising a new dawn. Blue is a poor attempt at Bon Iver's delicate folk-pop but, in spite of the continued awkwardness around the presentation of pandemic in culture and art, Spring is a song that stands above others by virtue of its sweetness and delicate string arrangement. 

Punchline and When Will I Be Alright feature moments of touching openness, with both calling for a ceasefire – perhaps with the music industry – and delivering moments of musical merit, without either quite pulling on heart-strings as intended. 

‘Autumn Variations’ is a banal project dusted with moments of vulnerability and melodies that are earworms without becoming grating. If you are able to forget about his bank balance for a moment, it is just about possible to empathise with Sheeran’s plight, of being a normal guy brought to overbearing stardom, without necessarily valuing his creative output beyond a passive shrug of the shoulders. 

Ed Sheeran Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat November 18 2023 - LONDON Royal Albert Hall
Sun November 19 2023 - LONDON Royal Albert Hall

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