Ed Sheeran’s seventh album is his second full-length release this year and the best of these songs sparkle with his familiar melodic sorcery.
Ed says Autumn Variations was inspired by Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Not musically – there’s no Nimrod here – but in the sense that the songs are based on people he knows.
Highs include the pretty, perky acoustic ballad American Town about living with an English girl in the States – wife Cherry in New York, perhaps.
“We ate Chinese food in small white boxes, live the life we saw in Friends,” Ed sings.
England is a folky ballad over restless guitar that feels stirring despite lyrics noting the country’s sad decline. The seaside comes with warnings of “broken glass and train lines” (What? No sewerage?) and “the pub with the flag that’s workin’ flexible hours”.
Then Suffolk-raised Ed adds: “I find this country of mine gets a bad reputation of being cold and grey”, but on the coast, “I find serenity I’ve never felt, there’s a peace and a quiet in this land of ours, that can’t be mirrored by anywhere else”.
This album is perhaps the last of Sheeran’s musical collaborations with The National’s Aaron Dessner, master of stripped-down production.
The 14 new songs include the uplifting electro-pop of Midnight, the folk-rap of That’s On Me (with an unexpected F-bomb), and the simple synth-enhanced opening love song, Magical.
The Day I Was Born, about a sad chap whose pals swerve his birthday drinks, marries catchy 70s-style Americana with peevish lyrics. “Nobody cares,” he moans. “Another birthday alone.”
Ed is no poet but he has the ability to chronicle the everyday and imbue it with real feeling. As ever, he manages to make the mundane magical. His gift for singalong tunes is undiminished.