Ed Sheeran – Autumn Variations

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I’m not sure I can handle the fact that 2023 gifted us with two Ed Sheeran albums. But I’m going to pretend I’m chill about it. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical when Sheeran announced that he’s going to release another album this year that’s entirely for fans. I kind of thought, when I first heard the news, that it might be a rerecording of hits – I mean Demi Lovato recently did that, so… No, instead we got an entire album of fourteen songs that critics had fun tearing apart. I don’t usually do this, but I decided, instead of sounding like a broken bell and maybe harping on about how lifeless and joyless the songs are – like The Guardian did – to first understand why Autumn Variations was made in the first place.

First, if you’re just diving into Autumn Variations, remember that Sheeran wrote each song to represent his and his close pal’s perspectives, so unless his friends all share the same character traits, don’t expect the record to have an overarching theme.

“Last autumn, I found that my friends and I were going through so many life changes. After the heat of the summer, everything either calmed, settled, fell apart, came to a head or imploded,” he said during the announcement of the album in August, adding, “When I went through a difficult time at the start of last year, writing songs helped me understand my feelings and come to terms with what was going on, and when I learned about my friend’s different situations, I wrote songs, some from their perspectives, some from mine, to capture how they and I viewed the world at that time. There were highs of falling in love and new friendships among lows of heartbreak, depression, loneliness, and confusion.”

So armed with this knowledge, I was ready to dive into the album and I was greeted by “Magical.” First of all, I want to say that this does not sound anywhere near a song that you’ll find charting favorably (I leave it to the fans to prove me wrong). The sound was not that great, and usually when a song is devoid of flashy instrumentals and other gimmicks, it’s usually because they want us to listen to the lyrics. Far be it from me to criticize Sheeran, but there’s nothing to attract me back to the song. “Is this how it feels to be in love? / This is magical, this is magical,” he sings in the chorus. However, for all its shortcomings, “Magical” is a memorable song.

“England” talks about the changes technology is imposing on our society, as Sheeran sings, “The air bites, then leaves, almost invisible cuts on the skin / A lighthouse retired, but a new one was hired / About twenty foot taller, painted in black and white / Twenty million steps with a computer inside instead of him.”

If you’ve ever found yourself putting in the work to be happy and yet feeling like you’re still the one blocking your path to happiness, then “Amazing’s” is the kind of song you’ll relate to. “Every time I crack a smile, I can sense another tear comin’ / That’s kind of weird, but what can I say?” he sings. And I actually do melt when I hear this line, “Can’t switch off my brain, so don’t meditate.”

In “Head > Heels,” there’s a degree of vulnerability that’s not often met in music, and Sheeran’s voice did nothing but raise the roof on how strikingly beautiful and emotionally tormenting this track is.

The entire album is meditative and calm. And it does have moments when its lyrics feel so real that you just close your eyes and let the songs consume you. The songs are not mourning or celebrating life. Rather, they’re about the standout moments in life. They’re memories. Whether that’s good or bad, it’s up to the listeners to decide, because the critics are way off.