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What are the critics saying about Ed Sheeran’s new album Equals?

Ed Sheeran (Dan Martensen/PA)
Ed Sheeran (Dan Martensen/PA)

Ed Sheeran’s latest album =, or Equals, has been met with a muted response from critics, who nevertheless predict its “corny” and “saccharine” contents will not hinder its expected massive commercial success.

The Suffolk singer-songwriter’s fourth solo studio album, his first as a father and married man, is the latest instalment in his mathematical symbol series.

It is among the year’s most highly anticipated music releases and includes the UK number one singles Shivers and Bad Habits.

The album comes after Sheeran married long-term partner Cherry Seaborn in 2019, with daughter Lyra Antarctica being born the following year, and is heavily influenced by his new life.

Mark Savage, of the BBC, judged the album as balancing Sheeran’s “ruthless commercial instincts with more introspective, emotional moments”.

Alexis Petridis, writing for the Guardian, gave Equals three stars and described it as “an album of foregone conclusions: everything from multi-platinum success to the accompanying backlash feels preordained.

“For all the negative words that might sometimes cut deep, you get the feeling Sheeran might have quietly come to an accommodation with things as they are.

“Understandably, given his sales figures, he doesn’t sound like an artist in the business of changing people’s minds.”

Graham Norton Show – London
Ed Sheeran on the Graham Norton Show (Matt Crossick/PA)

The album also won three stars from the NME’s Nick Levine, who said it positions Sheeran as a “millennial Lionel Richie – namely, a very gifted singer-songwriter who’s sometimes sunk by his saccharine streak”.

He added: “When Sheeran gets a Glastonbury Legends slot in 25 or 30 years’ time, he’ll probably nail it, as Richie did in 2015, with a joyous procession of gold-plated hits.

“But for now, his persistent bad habits make this album a little less enjoyable than it could be.”

Will Hodgkinson in the Times gave the album a higher score – four stars – and noted how generally the worse the reviews of Sheeran’s previous works, the better the sales.

He added: “That’s why Sheeran is critic-proof: singalong pop comes naturally to him.

Single charts
Ed Sheeran’s recent single, Bad Habits, went to number one (

“Like someone whose idea of a classic album is Now That’s What I Call Music!, he seems to have a real love and feeling for the things that get out to the kids, the mums and dads, the people who aren’t searching for credibility or coolness.”

The Daily Telegraph’s Neil McCormick agreed.

He said: “To some tastes, Sheeran will be corny and trite. Yet what he does well is essentially inarguable: provide songs that fulfil the emotional needs of universal moments.

“These days he may be singing about the importance of family life, but Sheeran’s ambition remains set at world domination. This is an album that pretty much covers all commercial bases.

“With the stadium dynamics of Coldplay, singalong craft of Abba and romantic balladry to rival Adele, Britain’s favourite one-man band seems determined to prove he is first among Equals.”

Roisin O’Connor, of the Independent, gave the album three stars.

She said Sheeran manages to avoiding turning the songs into a “box-ticking exercise” as on previous albums, managing to incorporate his influences with “a little more flair”.

Ahead of the release of Equals, Sheeran joined Apple Music’s Zane Lowe for an interview, conducting the chat from home after announcing on October 24 that he had tested positive for Covid-19.

And on album release day, he offered BBC Radio 2 listeners a preview of a Christmas single he has recorded with Sir Elton John, performing an acoustic snippet live on air.

Equals is released in the same four-week period as blockbuster offerings from Abba, Coldplay and Adele, with all arriving in time to compete for the festive top spot.