“Every day discovering something brand new.” Ed Sheeran clearly hasn’t been following A View From The Top, but thankfully the release of his two new singles has provided us with just that this week, saving another poor PearShaped writer from trying to squeeze some last drops of insight from the rock that is Rockabye.
Anyway, not only is Shape Of You blessedly fresh, it’s actually pretty good. It opens with a pretty generic sound, a sort of xylophone synth you find on a lot of tracks, which tries to trick you into thinking it feels big just because it’s slathered in reverb. When Sheeran comes in with the guitar, however, things get a little more interesting as he overlays this beat with a flamenco rhythm. The verse is a little boring, and although Sheeran has started to be known for this sort of half sung, half rapped style, it doesn’t excuse the blandness here. His rhythms are nice but not quite enough on their own. Things pick up in the pre-chorus – probably the best part of the song; here the melody is catchy without being too simple, and the rhythm is unexpected but feels incredibly natural once you’ve heard it. There’s also an element of playfulness here when Sheeran, echoing this girl’s words, harmonises with his falsetto. The following, incredibly deep, humming that leads into the chorus sounds almost ridiculous next to this, but it’s the kind of small detail in such a polished and engineered chart hit that endears you to it and convinces you that there might be some kind of soul in here after all.
The chorus is good, catchy again without being overly simplistic, but something feels missing. None of the instrumentation has changed since the verse (except for an annoyingly loud clapping, and a guitar whose tone I do have a massive soft spot for). Consequently, it almost just feels like another verse instead of something bigger.
Unfortunately the post-chorus doesn’t save things. Sheeran goes for a perplexingly huge sound now which only feels out of place in the breezy tune, and here he falls away from catchy territory and simply into the annoying. The bridge has the same problem and in fact only seems to be there so that the song has a bridge. The track sounds at its most overproduced here as Sheeran seems incapable of preventing his own voice from multiplying, so we end up with about five Eds all harmonising at once, which sounds robotic and a little scary.
Lyrically there’s not much to say. Sheeran is typically inventive with the sound of his words, using clever little half rhymes and interesting rhythms, but in this case they don’t go much further than, “I’m in love with your body”. Which is fine. Not everything has to mean something. My only complaint is that in the verses (as he often does) he sometimes brings in too many irrelevant and slightly saccharine details. It’s like he’s a robot trying to convince you he’s human when he tells you, “we talked for hours and hours about the sweet and sour”.
Small niggles aside, though, this is a good song, and certainly much better than a lot of the nonsense that’s reached the top spot in the past few years. Sheeran might be starting to sound a little like a parody of himself sometimes, but it’s still pretty damn good.