Subtract marks the final installment of Ed Sheeran’s mathematical symbols-titled projects which go all the way back to 2011.
While most of his successes have been attributed to romantic songs such as “Thinking Out Loud”, “Shape of You” and “Perfect”, Subtract shifts away from this as it explores themes of melancholy, loss, remorse, depression and fear. The 14-track album is strikingly similar to the “A Team” in which the lyrical singer returns to his roots. The whirlwind of emotions stems from the feelings of loss of a friend and a difficult period in his marriage.
On “Subtract”, the lyricism is unmatched with his delivery of exquisitely detailed music which is supported with preservation of raw intimate words. The album features production credits from The National’s Aaron Dessner, one of the brains behind Taylor Swift‘s “Folklore” and “Evermore” albums. Ed Sheeran takes us into his world as he uses this album as an outlet of emotions and feelings.
Boat, which is the opening track of the album starts as a monologue with a clear theme of melancholy. The introduction of concepts surrounding themes of weather are utilized which indicate his struggles. However, the singer also shows resilience and hope.
This is a track which compels the listeners to sit up as it offers a much darker tone with its metaphorical words of “saltwater”. It offers periods of liberation coupled with imagery of dark contemplation for the artist in venturing beyond life. The artist later refrains from those thoughts as the lyrics “It was just a dream” echoes.
The upbeat tempo in “eyes closed” can be quite deceiving to the listener as it provides the notion that all seems well. The song pays homage to Jamal Edwards, a friend to the singer with a combination of a consistently picked guitar and an amazing wordplay. The symbolization showcases the feelings of loss while also an attempt to move on.
Life Goes On
Sheeran delivers raw emotions with his voice hitting a certain raggedness where he expresses fear of losing his wife. The unimaginable pain of losing his wife, Cherry Seaborn is evident as his words serve as a plea to her to get better.
End of Youth
“End of Youth” represents the lowest point of the singer with feelings of hopelessness present. The song is a self-reflection for the artist on Edward’s death as he attempts to fill the void with wine. It is the most brutal honest song in the album as its chorus serves as a scream for help.
This song offers a certain innocence and recreation of a beautiful atmosphere. It represents restoration of hope with its enchanting lyrics (“Rainbows exploding”).
“Curtains” boasts of electric guitar lines with an upbeat tone representing the singer getting out of his dark emotional state. “Let me see the sun shine” is repeated in the song which helps signify a much brighter mood.
“No Strings” is a beautiful love song featuring a piano and Ed Sheeran. The simplicity of the song emphasizes the gorgeous messages “It’s no strings, you are who I love/And that won’t change when we’re falling apart”. This embodies an everlasting love.
Hills of Aberfeldy
Sheeran pays an ode to Celtic traditional folk as it paints a picture for the listener on snow-covered hills and frozen water for the Scottish town. His voice sounds like a bard as it soars perfectly depicting a touching acoustic love song. “When I am home, I’ll hold you like I’m supposed to/Yet I know that I have never told you/Darling, we could fall in love/‘Neath the hills of Aberfeldy”. The song’s final ending gives us the listeners to fully reflect on the weight of the album – “Subtract”.