Ed Sheeran’s ‘Autumn Variations’ sparks debate among critics

Ed Sheeran’s latest musical offering, Autumn Variations, has ignited a spectrum of opinions within the critical sphere. The 32-year-old singer-songwriter unleashed his seventh studio album just four months after the emotionally charged Subtract, a record that delved deep into the grief and depression he experienced following his wife’s health struggles and the tragic loss of his friend, Jamal Edwards.

In stark contrast, Autumn Variations shifts the focus towards Ed’s friendships, with the artist explaining that he composed songs from various perspectives, aiming to capture the unique worldviews of both himself and his friends at that moment in time. Inspired by classical composer Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations and featuring a collaboration with musician Aaron Dessner, the album showcases Ed’s evolving musical exploration.

Critics have offered a mixed reception to the album, with some applauding the melodies while lamenting the absence of the raw and candid lyrics that characterized his previous work. The record also marks a departure from his previous mathematical-symbol-themed album titles, such as Plus, Multiply, Divide, and Equals.

Rachel Aroesti of The Guardian gave Autumn Variations two stars, characterizing it as a collection of “plodding, genre-hopping songs” that eventually converge into “bland, sentimental ballads.” NME’s Thomas Smith also awarded two stars, humorously remarking that the seasons of “Spring and Summer can’t come soon enough.”

In contrast, The Independent’s Helen Brown and i’s Ed Power both granted the album three stars, with Brown noting the presence of “soupy seasonal sentimentality,” and Power likening it to a “looser companion” to “Subtract.”

More favorable reviews came from David Smyth of the Evening Standard, who awarded four stars, highlighting Ed’s evolution as an artist with a message. The Times’ Will Hodgkinson also gave the album four stars, praising Ed’s ability to infuse mundane aspects of life with genuine emotion.

The Financial Times echoed the sentiment with four stars, emphasizing a less mawkish mood and reduced reliance on stadium-sized choruses compared to “Subtract.” Metro’s Emma Harrison lauded the album with four stars, applauding its exploration of a wide spectrum of emotions.

The Daily Mail’s Adrian Thrills, also awarding four stars, noted a “mellow brightness” in the music, reminiscent of Ed’s earlier works, and highlighted Aaron Dessner’s stripped-back arrangements. The Telegraph’s James Hall went even further, granting the album a perfect five stars, celebrating it as a stylistic departure and asserting that Autumn Variations showcases Sheeran at his most commercial and adventurous.

This album represents a significant shift for Ed Sheeran, moving away from his mathematical symbols and offering a diverse and dynamic soundscape that has left critics divided. Autumn Variations is released under Ed’s own record label, Gingerbread Man.