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When I first lis­tened to Ed Sheeran’s “Vis­iting Hours,” a song from his newest album “Equals,” tears streamed down my face. I was trans­ported to the genius of his mas­ter­pieces “The A Team,” “I See Fire,” and “Afterglow.”

The gentle piano and guitar accom­pa­niment high­lights Sheeran’s soaring vocals in one of his most pas­sionate and emo­tional per­for­mances yet. 

I did not expect such a heartfelt, touching song to cue up on my Spotify playlist after the vibey pop song “Bad Habits” was released a few weeks prior. Rem­i­niscent of “Super­market Flowers,” this track is a refreshing and lovely sur­prise in Sheeran’s highly antic­i­pated pop album. 

As Sheeran’s first album since becoming a husband and father, “Equals” dwells on themes of family, the stead­fastness of love, the impor­tance of slowing down to enjoy the little moments, and the reality of time and death, lending a sense of maturity and gravity to Sheeran’s lyrics. 

“This is my favourite album I’ve made,” Sheeran said in an Instagram post, “I’m so proud of it.” 

True to the suc­cessful habits of his pre­vious albums, “Plus”, “Mul­tiply,” and “Divide,” Sheeran’s new album fea­tures several crowd favorites already popular on TikTok, including “Bad Habits” and “Shivers.” 

While many have faulted Sheeran with a lack of cre­ativity and uniqueness in “Equals,” there is some­thing nos­talgic and com­forting about con­sis­tency in an artist’s musical and lyrical style.

“Equals” pro­vides the lyrical and musical con­sis­tency that the world loves and has come to expect from Ed Sheeran, while subtly show­casing his per­sonal growth and will­ingness to exper­iment with new musical ele­ments and a new focus for the entire album.

Gone are the days of Sheeran pining for his exes and par­tying with his “pretty little Galway girl.” “I have grown up, I am a father now / Every­thing has changed,” Sheeran sings in “Tides.” Time to shake those bad habits of youth and be a good example. 

But no one wants to listen to a new Ed Sheeran album without a few classic love songs. After all, who else is going to provide the new all-time favorite wedding slow-dance song? We’re all a little tired of “Perfect,” sorry Ed.

While this new album doesn’t give us a song quite to the caliber of “Thinking Out Loud” or “Pho­to­graph,” “Joker and the Queen” is a sweet, reflective tribute to Sheeran’s wife. This song is one of the calmer tracks, show­casing Sheeran’s musical well-round­edness and high­lighting his tender vocals and lyrics with acoustic guitar, a simple piano melody, and orchestral strings. 

While Sheeran’s latest album is mostly a triumph, he could have cut the less unique, rather mundane tracks to pre­serve the refreshing quality of “Equals.”

“Equals” ends on one of the few minor key tracks of the album with “Be Right Now,” but the hopeful message of the song is empha­sized by the fast tempo and club ‘80s beat. “I don’t wanna miss one thing / We can turn the whole world down / And listen to the in-between” Sheeran says, “Just stay here and be right now.”

No matter what the critics say, Sheeran’s first album release since 2017 is a sat­is­fying sum­mation to his math­e­mat­i­cally-named albums, and skill­fully shows his per­sonal and pro­fes­sional growth. Sheeran has embraced his syn­thetic, R&B leanings fore­shadowed in pre­vious releases while gifting his fans with the classic, acoustic songs we all asso­ciate with Ed Sheeran.