It’s promising to be the biggest-selling album of the year and has already broken a UK chart record with the first two singles.
However, Ed Sheeran’s long-awaited third album, released on Friday after a three-year hiatus, has not been a universal hit with critics.
The Guardian gave ÷, his first record since 2014, two stars, calling Sheeran’s genre-spanning tracks commercially calculated, driven by an desire to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
“A flagrant sense of scheming behind every lyric, piece of instrumentation, expression of sentiment and change of mood on Sheeran’s third album hangs over these taut, trim new tracks,” said the Guardian.
The review singled out Sheeran’s foray in Gaelic rap on track Galway Girl as both “ludicrous” and “preposterous”. However, despite initial resistance from Sheeran’s own label over including the folk song on the album – and criticism from one writer in the Irish Times that the song has “all the authenticity of an Irish bar in Malaga that serves buttery chicken wings” – the song has already gone to number one in Ireland.
The album’s token ballad, Perfect, written as a dedication to his girlfriend, was also the object of ire in the Evening Standard’s three-star review, described as “drippier than water torture”.
In less than 12 hours, the album topped the iTunes chart across the world, and if Sheeran’s last two albums are anything to go by, it looks set to dominate the charts for months to come. Shape of You, the lead single from the album, was streamed 6,868,642 times on Spotify in its first week.
Certainly, the record charmed several critics, including The Telegraph, who awarded it four stars.
“This is a set of direct, punchy, melodic, catchy, meaningful songs, with verses and choruses in all the right places,” said the review. It was a view echoed by the Independent, who also gave ÷ four stars, though like the Guardian’s review, singled out Sheeran’s evident commercial ambitions with the record.
“It wasn’t written to please critics – it was written to please fans, to be commercially successful ... and that’s exactly what Sheeran will achieve with this.”
NME also gave the album four out of five, calling it a “collection that, somehow, adheres to his perfect pop template, while also being quietly weird”.
Nonetheless, according to Sheeran himself, he’s not bothered by mixed reviews. In a recent Guardian interview, the 26-year-old said: “I’m at the point where even if I get a one-star review for every album I released for the rest of my life, I’ll still be able to play music.”