Superstar singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has never shied away from expressing his emotions through his music. But Sheeran says he’s in “different territory” with his new album, Subtract.

Shifting away from the playful moods of his previous records, Subtract presents a more mature, sombre Sheeran. This fifth album in his mathematics series marks a significant departure, with its Heartfelt and Melancholic moods dominating the sound.

Decoding emotion with AI

Subtract is heavily influenced by Sheeran’s experiences with grief. His best friend’s untimely death and his wife’s cancer diagnosis during her pregnancy profoundly impacted him. Originally, he had planned to release an album that had been ten years in the making, but he scrapped it all, deciding to rewrite the entire record. The result is a highly personal folk album.

The data supports this shift. 

Not only does Subtract have the lowest average tempo and energy of all his last five solo albums, but the number of Heartfelt moods (as detected by AI) is at an all-time high. 

Sheeran's big pop record Divide (Ă·) was high in Playful moods and low in Melancholy. New record Subtract (-) is the complete opposite.

The moods in this album are markedly different from his previous records. There’s not a single Playful mood on this album. Meanwhile, the AI-ascribed’ Melancholy’ mood, which could be seen as a metric for sorrow or grief, is far more prominent in this album than in previous outings.

This change is a clear reflection of Sheeran’s maturation as an artist. This measurable mood shift demonstrates how Sheeran’s personal tragedies have influenced his music, leading to a more mature and introspective sound. It’s a clear departure from his earlier work, often characterized by youthful energy and Playful moods.

Resonating with his audience

Sheeran’s evolution mirrors a common trajectory among artists. Many artists start their careers by tapping into popular trends, creating energetic and catchy songs that appeal to a broad audience. As their careers progress, they often experiment with different sounds and themes, gradually revealing more of their core as an artist. This trend is evident in Sheeran’s music, as Subtract leans heavily into introspective, heartfelt folk, moving away from the pop territory of his previous albums.

Sheeran has always been a master of understanding his audience, and this evolution in his music could be a reflection of his audience growing up with him. As they face similar life experiences, the shift in his music could resonate more deeply with them. The lyrics of Subtract are not about breakups but about dealing with grief, loss, and the challenges of adulthood.

This shift raises an intriguing question: is Subtract a sign of a new direction for Sheeran, or is it a momentary departure, a necessary step in his emotional journey? Could we expect more introspective and thoughtful music from him in the future, or will he return to his more playful, upbeat roots? One thing is sure – Subtract is undoubtedly Sheeran’s most emotionally mature record. It marks a significant milestone in his career, showcasing his growth not just as an artist but as a person navigating the complexities of life and loss.

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