Less than five months after the release of “Subtract” back in May, Ed Sheeran is back with his second full-length album of the year, “Autumn Variations.” While I wouldn’t call myself a superfan of Sheeran, I would say that I’ve liked a solid chunk of Sheeran’s discography with “Divide,” in particular, being my favorite record from the English singer/songwriter. That being said, I have found his style to be a bit redundant over the past three albums or so. Much like “Subtract”, “Autumn Variations” did not do too much for me, unfortunately.
With an album title like “Autumn Variations,” I expected Sheeran to lean more toward his singer/songwriter sensibilities rather than his pop star one. While I wasn’t expecting a record close to Noah Kahan’s “Stick Season” or Zach Bryan’s self-titled album, I thought that we’d be receiving an acoustic, introspective release from Sheeran. What we ended up getting was a bit of an amalgamation of pop and the singer/songwriter genre that doesn’t fully commit to either and ends up feeling wildly frustrating.
In my opinion, an autumn album is a much more slow, melancholy one that ultimately serves as a reflective record that reveals what an artist is thinking at the time of its release. There are flashes of it here with “Page,” “Spring,” “When Will I Be Alright” and “American Town” all capturing the feeling of this acoustic, introspective vibe that I personally feel this album needed to have. That being said, there are some real duds here as well.
Ironically, my favorite song on this project is one that doesn’t capture the overall mood he was going for. “Amazing” is far and away the most interesting song both musically and lyrically. I really like how he conceptualizes feelings of depression and apathy here. Musically, it’s quite a poppy one with some solid backbeats and a keyboard present in the production. It sounds super fun and upbeat and ultimately serves as a brilliant juxtaposition to the lyrics. Here, Sheeran is grappling with the fact that he is trying his hardest to feel “amazing,” but he simply can’t get out of his own head. The chorus is a simple one, but it says so much without saying much at all. “Yeah, I’m trying to feel amazing/Yeah, but I can’t get out of my way, and/Yeah, wish I could feel amazing/But this is all that I can feel today.”
“That’s On Me,” “Head > Heels” and “Magical” all miss the mark for me production-wise. Instead of capturing the lo-fi, acoustic sound that this autumn record needed, these tracks all get overrun with some unnecessary, over-produced instrumentation. I understand that this is labeled as a pop album and that Sheeran is a pop singer at his core, but these tracks just seem to get lost in post-production.
“That’s On Me” is the biggest offender of this in my opinion. It’s clear that Sheeran likes to dabble with rap-like flows in verses on past songs like “Galway Girl” and “2step.” It worked marginally better on those songs and projects, but it feels even more out of place here. The fast-paced, sparsely-backed verses clash with his falsetto-heavy chorus here.
This is Sheeran’s third album over the past two years, and I must say I’ve liked each project less and less. It seems he’s trying hard to capture the magic of his earlier albums, but it’s simply not present here. The melodies aren’t nearly as catchy as his previous work, the lyrics are serviceable at best and the production feels like it’s trying too hard throughout the album. I really wanted to like this album, but this is yet another misstep for Sheeran. 5 out of 10.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of The Torch