AS Ed puts it himself, this is “a quarter-life crisis album” – his coming-of-age story as he transitions from wayward twentysomething without a care in the world to marriage and fatherhood.
But there is no crisis as far as the music is concerned.
This perfectly polished pop shows the full breadth of Ed’s songwriting gift and his deep understanding of the musical landscape. Packed with reinvention, this is unmistakably Ed – but with a raft of new tricks and styles that compliment his trademark acoustic ballads to create a cleverly curated package of light and shade.
Put simply, it’s a brilliant collection of songs that cements Ed as the voice of his generation.
In an exclusive interview to mark its launch, Ed says: “As a production, it’s more layered and complex than what I’ve done before.
‘Trying out new things’
“But it’s still all loop, albeit with a bit of keyboard for some basslines and some hooks I can add to things like Bad Habits. But the tracks and singles can all still be done the way I have always done things with the Loop Station.
“I feel like the album has enough core stuff on it that my fans will recognise and like straight away. It follows from what has come before but I did hear the sharp intake of breath a few months back when I put Bad Habits out as the first single and some people went, ‘Oh no, what’s this? We don’t like this’.
“I find trying out new things interesting. I’m an acoustic act, I’ve always had an acoustic guitar, but I feel like if I’d released A-Team as my big single from the first album, Plus, then come back with a similar thing, people would have been disappointed. I remember the reaction from the industry and the Press when I released Sing.
“People said it was a breath of fresh air because they just assumed I’d come back with a ballad.
“In the end I came to Thinking Out Loud and that’s what you become known for again for that record.
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“So when it came to Divide, I wanted to release Shape Of You then get to Perfect. If I’d come straight back with Perfect, people would have said, ‘Another ballad’.
“I just want to try new things. If I’m closing my new tour with a track from the previous album, I need to check myself. I want to make songs people can dance to, cry to.
He adds: “I think this album is a bit of a quarter-life crisis. I spent my twenties traveling the world, no responsibilities, playing shows and having fun. Then suddenly things changed. I got married, I became a father, I turned 30 and I remember that moment, suddenly feeling ‘I can’t do those things any more’. I’ve done a lot of growing up recently.”
Equals is sure to top the charts but Ed has a different measure of success. He says: “For me it’s about staying in the conversation. I look at somebody like Chris Martin.
“Coldplay have been around 25 years, successful for 23, and they’re still being played on the radio alongside The Kid Laroi and Olivia Rodrigo. To be in that discussion ten, 20 years into your career is a big achievement.
“I’m not trying to be the very biggest artist. I’ve had my year, ticked that box. I have my fanbase, they’re growing with me. They’re adults who consume music in a different way. I’d love the album to go No1 but I’ve broken the records I wanted to break. I just hope people give the album a go. If you don’t like it, don’t listen again. But play it once, all the way through.
“I made this to fit on vinyl, so I took two tracks off. It’s my best album – an album rather than a collection of songs, which isn’t as common in the streaming age.”
Here is my take on Equals, track by track:
Tides – “Life is changing tides,” Ed sings on this anthemic indie rocker. With echoes of Castle On The Hill and Coldplay’s Yellow, it is easy to see this opening stadium shows next summer. Where Ed’s lyrics previously told of boozy nights out, now he observes: “People depend on me.”
Shivers – This second single from the album soared to No1, with an upbeat, dancey feel. As Ed explains: “People are back out and about, having fun. A ballad didn’t feel right.”
First Times – Classic Ed, gentle and acoustic with lyrics reflecting on his Wembley shows, his growing success and his proposal to wife Cherry.
Bad Habits – The song of the summer which brought Ed back with a bang. He says: “This wasn’t going to be the single, at first, or the feel of the album. But as lockdown lifted, people wanted to dance and I wanted to catch that vibe.”
Overpass Graffiti – Upbeat and synthesised, this shows the breadth of Ed’s craft.
The Joker And The Queen – A piano-led ballad with strings and romantic lyrics. Ed says: “I’ll get to this as a single later on but I wanted to start with different things.”
Leave Your Life – Decent mid-album fare.
Collide – Heavily produced, one of the beefier tracks, fluctuating from upbeat to ballad.
2step – Lively dance-pop. R&B and hip-hop influences show Ed’s fondness for more urban sounds.
Stop The Rain – A grinding, synth-led bassline and Latin beats on one of the more unusual tracks.
Love In Slow Motion – Enjoyable if not one of the highlights.
Visiting Hours – A beautiful tribute to late pal Michael Gudinski, as raw and emotional as any love song. Ed reflects on the heartbreak of not being able to share future experiences together. A tearjerker.
Sandman – A touching lullaby for Ed’s baby Lyra. Think Jason Mraz-style reggae and Hawaiian rhythms.
Be Right Now – Electronic and up-tempo with layered vocal harmonies. The record ends with a bang until a final vocal line fades away. Magnificently produced.