As of today, Ginger Jesus himself, Ed Sheeran, has returned to us simple people and gifted us with, not one, but TWO new songs. It’s been two years since Sheeran has released new music, and since winning a Grammy for his song “Thinking Out Loud”, expectations from his fans and even those that aren’t, are quite high for the British singer. So, that all being said, did he deliver after having us wait?
I first listened to “Castle On the Hill”…
In a word, it’s anthemic. If there’s something that Sheeran consistently does right, no matter what, it’s songwriting and storytelling. Not unlike his friend Taylor Swift, he’s a very gifted writer, and when I listened to the song and read along with the lyrics, I was reminded of this, since it had been a while since I’d had some Ed in my life. A song brimming with nostalgia, the lyrics are quite moving, making you laugh at times, and get emotional at other times.
Also, storyline told in the song aside for a second, this kind of song really fits Sheeran’s career place right now as a whole. After winning a Grammy, some artists could so easily lose sight of where they came from (geographically, at least) and musically, abandoning the qualities about them that made them popular in the first place, the things that made listeners tune in. Here, Sheeran reminisces about the good old days from his time back home, reminding everyone that he knows where he came from and the times when he was younger, but acknowledging that he’s older now, and has learned from experience and mistakes he’s made along the way. Coinciding with the narrative, musically, the song sounds very much like an Ed Sheeran song, featuring his signature guitar lines, but so quickly becomes a little more indie rock that a lot of his past songs with the addition of the full production as of the first chorus. It shows how his music has grown in the past couple of years as well as Sheeran has as a person. It’s quite masterfully and intelligently done.
“Castle on the Hill” could so easily be a James Bay or U2 song, but with a slight growl at the top of lines of the chorus, it’s enough that you recognize it as Ed, but it’s different enough that you’re not rolling your eyes, saying, “Give me something new that I haven’t heard from you before”. If you ever said to yourself, “I don’t know any Ed Sheeran songs I could sit in the car with my friends, roll down the windows, and belt our hearts to”, then I would say you just found one.
And honestly, if this had been the only single, I would have been more than satisfied with it. BUT IT’S NOT!
Next, we have “Shape of You”…
My first impression when listening to it is that Ed Sheeran is an intelligent musician. As I have said in the past, every musician knows what they have that makes them different, what makes them stand out. Ed Sheeran has great storytelling abilities, really unique melodic ideas, and has a knack for disarming deliveries with his lyrics. Like Tyler Joseph of twenty one pilots, Ed can speed through lyrics like no one’s business, as we’ve heard on so many of his songs before. But what’s remarkable about him, that I also sometimes find with Adele, is that he knows how to use each of his talents differently and not all at the same time. Never give it all away all at once (a rule that can be applied to many things). He doesn’t have to rip through a verse at lightning speed on every song or rhythmically bend lines in ways that play with your mind, so when he does, it makes it so much more poignant, and it was a welcome return to form when I first listened to “Shape of You” from the very first words, despite it sounding surprisingly different than a usual song from him.
I never thought I’d be able to say this, but at first, I would totally have believed this was a Sia song that Ed was covering, a testament to how popular Sia’s writing has (deservedly) become in this industry, but also how expansive Sheeran’s writing abilities go. The marimba line, a seemingly growing trend as of late, is catchy and fits the song in an alluring way. Once again, the lyrics are very narrative driven, and it’s great to see. When an artist is silent for so long, quality over quantity is expected, and if the rest of his record sounds like this, I’m ready to dive in. Also, I think it’s interesting how he’s worded this song. He words his attraction to the girl in the song by saying that he’s in love “with her body” and “the shape of you”, but with the imagery in the lyric video revolving around cell phones and the “like” button on social media, I can’t tell if Sheeran is making a point of exposing the irony of modern day relationships being so focused on appearances…tell me if I’m alone out on that limb, because I might be.
Overall, the song is very radio friendly, but still in a unique way. It’s clear how much Ed has inspired artists like James Bay and Shawn Mendes when you hear songs likes this, and even Justin Bieber in a small way; it’s worth noting that Ed wrote Justin’s “Love Yourself” from last year.
Conclusion: Well worth the wait! These are both really strong songs, and if the new record Ed has up his sleeve is anything like this, I’m very excited to see the next chapter of his.