Ed Sheeran’s Album ‘Subtract’ — From All The Drama, Music is Made


Ed Sheeran “Subtract” cover art. (Courtsey of edsheeran.com)

By Haley Freeman, Arts Writer


He’s the ginger with 14 No. 1 hits, five multi-platinum albums, and is no stranger to the iconic Wembley Stadium, where he has performed several record-breaking sold-out shows. Offstage, he had an unimaginable 2022: his wife was diagnosed with cancer months before giving birth to their second child, his best friend died unexpectedly and he was sued for copyright infringement for his most successful song. 

The Next Album

Ed Sheeran takes the listener through all the ups and downs in his most personal album, “-,” or “Subtract.” Released on May 5 and produced by Aaron Dessner, who also produced Taylor Swift’s recent hit albums “Folklore,” “Evermore” and “Midnights,” “Subtract” is a stripped-down acoustic album demonstrating Sheeran’s singer-songwriter roots.

(Ed Sheeran performing onstage via www.irishtimes.com)
Ed Sheeran performing onstage (Courtesy of Irish Times)

The road to “Subtract” was a long one. Sheeran has been working on “Subtract” for over a decade, putting aside acoustic songs for the fifth acoustic album he hoped to make one day. “Then at the start of 2022, a series of events changed my life, my mental health and ultimately the way I viewed music and art,” Sheeran shared on his Instagram.

Within the span of one month, his wife Cherry Seaborn was diagnosed with cancer. She was pregnant with their second child, which made treatments hard to navigate. Then Sheeran’s best friend Jamal Edwards, founder of SBTV and the man who helped launch Sheeran’s career passed away suddenly. On top of that, Sheeran had to go to court for claims of possible copyright infringement for his chart-topping singles “Thinking Out Loud” and “Shape of You” from his album “Divide.” According to Pitchfork, in “Thinking Out Loud,” Sheeran had allegedly plagiarized “chord progressions, time signatures, bass lines, and more” off of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”

To deal with these events in his life, Sheeran turned to writing and, continuing on his Instagram, “in just over a week I replaced a decade’s worth of work with my deepest darkest thoughts.”

Ed Sheeran Instagram via www.instagram.com/teddysphotos/
Ed Sheeran’s Instagram (Courtesy of teddysphotos)

Now, Seaborn is recovering and Sheeran won the lawsuits, but what about the music that came from all this? I asked Ed Sheeran fan John Claydon what he thought of the album. He said his stand-out songs after a first listen are “Sycamore,” “End of Youth” and “No Strings.” Claydon also mentioned that a track later on the album, “The Hills of Aberfeldy,” feels like “the perfect spiritual sequel” to “Galway Girl” — a notable track from Sheeran’s album “Divide.”

Many of the songs on the album seem like diary entries from Sheeran. Very minimal production and lack of out-there voice effects bring Sheeran’s storytelling to the forefront. One of four bonus tracks on the deluxe album is “Toughest.” This song acts as a direct response to Seaborn and her cancer diagnosis, saying she is “the toughest in the room.” Like my opinion of many songs on the album, I think the song is pretty but very particular, which is not for every listener or every occasion.

(Ed Sheeran promo via https://twitter.com/edsheeran)
Ed Sheeran promo (Courtesy of Ed Sheeran’s Twitter)


As any brilliant marketing team would do, with one ultra-personal album comes an ultra-personal docuseries. Disney+ released “Ed Sheeran: The Sum of It All” on May 3. The four-episode limited series follows Sheeran as he discusses the events in his life that influenced the album. We hear interviews from his wife as she explains her recovery from cancer, and in the final episode Sheeran writes, records and then films the music video for “F64,”a song tribute to Edwards. As a fan of Sheeran for a few years now, I learned lots about his childhood and music career watching the docuseries.

For those less interested in the narrative and who would rather stay for good music, there is plenty of that as some of Sheeran’s writing and recording process is shown throughout the episodes. Some of my favorite behind-the-scenes music clips are littered throughout the first half of episode 3 as he works on “Bad Habits” off of “Equals” and “Dusty” and “Boat” off of “Subtract.” Also in episode 3 we see the emotional, never before seen footage of Sheeran’s first time playing “Subtract” on stage for an audience at London’s Union Chapel. Sheeran is well-known for using a loop pedal for live performances, which he demonstrates at the start of episode 4.

Ed Sheeran Docuseries poster (Courtesy of Disney Plus)

“Subtract” is available to stream on all music platforms, and all episodes of “Ed Sheeran: The Sum of It All” are available to stream now on Disney+. Also, you can catch Sheeran on tour in 2023. Tour dates and venues can be found on his website

“Sing!Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh-ohOh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh-ohLouder!” (Sing by Ed Sheeran)


[email protected]