Ed went 5 years without releasing new music and then dropped albums b2b, which means I get to jump on in for another installment of the highly anticipated track by track breakdown. I don’t mean to toot my own horn (even though I was born to toot), but in the review for Equals, I mused that though it SEEMS like that would’ve been the coda to his albums, we had yet to get a Subtract moment, except I called it minus because I’m forever 7 years old. And I’m assuming Ed saw that on The Salty Ju and was like here you go, babes. That’s how this album came about. I’m joking, obviously. We know how this album came about because he has extensively poured his heart out via social media and a 4-part docu-series on Disney +. I recommend you diving into that when you’re prepared to sob your eye sockets out, as I did on Friday. In short, if I may summarize the push behind this album, Ed had spent many years writing songs for what would be Subtract, and then had one of the worst years of his life when his wife found a tumor while she was 6 months pregnant and then his best friend died unexpectedly at 31. So he scrapped all those songs he was planning on having on the album and instead wrote new ones about the feelings he was having during this rough chapter as sort of a diary. As you can imagine, this album will not be full of bops, but might be more relatable than he thinks because life can be a real shitstorm sometimes.
1. Boat*. Starting things off with a simple guitar song about getting back up after you get kicked in the teeth by that fickle bitch called life. Did he say it more eloquently? Hell yea, it’s Ed Sheeran, master lyricist and voice of an angel. This song is a melodious reminder that you can feel both hopeless and also refuse to give up at the same damn time. I’m pretty much the Mayor of that town so I can say that this ditty particularly speaks to me. Things can be craptastic for a while but if you don’t let those craptastic waves sink your boat, maybe you’ll float on into some less craptastic waters? FINGERS CROSSED!
2. Salt Water. Fun fact about me (gu’head and roll your eyes, it was only a matter of time before I started yapping exclusively about myself and briefly attempting to relate it back to the song) I’ve always been an ocean lover. Grew up visiting the beach on family vacation and never had an issue going for a swim in the ocean, even overcoming the summer we went to Cape Cod and my brother in law swam up and grabbed my leg pretending to be a shark. That should’ve ended my affair with oceans immediately as it is not only traumatizing but also hits a little too close to home as Cape Cod has shark incidents multiple times every summer. But it didn’t. I took a vacation at the Jersey Shore and was one with the sea, even learning how to pee in the ocean for the first time. But then, I moved to the beach. I was very excited as a beach babe to finally live 10 minutes away and be a card-carrying member of a season beach pass. And suddenly I got a bad case of the yips. Cannot go in the ocean. We’re going on two years now and when I go to the beach (which is essentially 2-3 times a week from May through mid-October), if I get hot, I go down to the water and stand with the toddlers and splash water on myself and then head back up to my perch. I don’t know why I’m suddenly terrified of the ocean but from what I can gather, it’s a combination of the rough surf, the murky water, and the fact that I’m typically by myself and if I were to slip into the abyss, not a single soul would be looking for me. Fun stuff, right?! I came to this conclusion after I swam in both Jamaica and Siesta Key with my dad without any anxiety. Well, there was a moment where someone pointed at the water in Florida and I almost shit a brick. Pointing should be banned in the ocean unless a shark is actively chomping on you. The key to swimming in the ocean is not thinking about all the things lurking around you. Or in my case, the key to dipping your ankles and giving yourself a sponge bath because you’re too afraid to get womped by a wave, die, and wash up on the Jersey shore like all these humpbacks. All that to say, I can’t relate to this song at the moment. Salt water is not fixing my troubles, it singlehandedly IS my trouble. It’s also got a little bit of a let me drown my sorrows in the sea suicide vibe to it and it seems conflicting after just saying the waves won’t break my boat. Mixed messages from Ed if you ask me. Not my favorite track on the album and obviously you won’t find me being kissed by salt water anytime soon.
3. Eyes Closed.* Ed’s first single off the album and hands down my favorite. It is pretty much equally as depressing (content-wise) as the rest, yet surprisingly upbeat! I learned from his doc that he started writing this song years ago as a breakup tune, then revisited it after his friend Jamal died and made some changes so it was more about his grief. Let’s call a spade a spade though, breakups are also kind of deaths. That person is dead to you now, so tomato, tom-ah-to. I like that he used the original recorded vocals from many years ago and threaded it together with his new lyrics that he recorded more recently. That’s the nerd in me thinking HOW COOL that it took him this long to figure out the song and get it to what it is now, which is a banger. Also there’s nothing more relatable to the general public than memories being a double-edged sword. It’s all well and good when that person is still around, but when memories hit and that person isn’t around, it’s painful AF, especially if you’re sauced. Good thing Ed gave us that boppy “eye eye eye eyeeeeeees” joint to sing along to and help us forget.
4. Life Goes On. Back down in the dumps focusing on that garbage feeling after someone dies when life just goes back to normal but anyone in the grieving process feels like nothing will ever be normal again. Ed’s vocals are really strong in this song, hitting real hard on the “SO TELL ME HOW,” which I think will make it a phenomenal belting song for solo road trips when you’re in your feels. Unfortunately, that’s the only positive thing I can say about this song that is the epitome of “everything hurts and I’m dying.”
5. Dusty. Although I love the fact that this has a funky little beat to it and seems to be the much-needed pick-me-up after that previous track, which was a real doozy…I CAN’T with the word dusty. I went through a very long phase where I declared anything I didn’t like as dust (Ex: That iced coffee was DUST.) And on top of that, I’ve very much enjoyed and hopped on the bandwagon of calling people that suck “dusty.” Please note that this most universally applies to men. I don’t make the rules, I just agree with them. (Ex: That dusty ass guy asked for my number after he spilled his drink on me.) That being said, I cannot take a song called Dusty seriously. In my research (reading Genius Lyrics) I learned that Ed is referring to Dusty Springfield records he would often play in the morning with his daughter. It’s sweet and cute that starting the day listening to records with his daughter gave him hope and got him through hard times. BUT DUSTY…DUSTY LEE?!
6. End of Youth. Gotta hand it to Ed, he knows how to take some dark subject matter and let it rip. The chorus of this song is a real head-bopper. And this part? This part right here cuts deep: “We spend our youth with arms and hearts wide open / And then the dark gets in and that’s the end of youth.” WOOF. I especially love the addition of violin on this track to further gut you.
7. Colourblind. Clearly a love song, and one full of colorful metaphors to boot, I’m going to take this opportunity to slobber all over Ed’s wife. I’d seen pictures of her here and there but Ed has kept her, their relationship, and their kids completely private and off the grid…up until this documentary. Cherry was just as much a part of it as Ed was and I was delighted to find out that not only is she as cute as a button, but she’s cool as hell too. When talking about getting a tumor and wondering if she was going to die and what legacy she would leave behind, she was holding a beer in one hand and was explaining it to the camera so casually that Ed had to interject and be like you don’t need to downplay almost dying, it’s ok to say it was terrifying. That’s one tough chick. I also very much enjoyed learning that she calls him Eds, he calls her Chez, and they call their second daughter “Jupes.” Is adding an S to everything a British deal, cause I think I want in. Sucks to suck for their firstborn Lyra, who has no cutesy S or Z nickname. I guess Liez doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely. Anyway, Eds and Chez were besties in high school and reconnected and rekindled after she graduated college and now that I’ve gotten a glimpse of their relationship, I can’t get enough. Chez deserves all the beautiful love songs (like this one) that he’s penned for her. Including Perfect which he wrote for her after like 2 weeks of dating and it took him about an hour to create that masterpiece. What would it be like to have one of the most famous love songs written for you? I’ll have to get back to you on that half past never.
8. Curtains.* It’s trendy to chit chat about mental health these days thanks to my generation of headcases, nbd but KBD. You’re welcome, America. So I’m down with any song that can bottle up how it feels to be anxious or depressed and package it into a catchy tune. I praised Tay’s Anti-Hero and I’ll praise this song for the same reason. More people suffer from depression than you know, and I’ll even go out on a limb and declare that EVERYONE suffers from seasonal depression. Once you walk the boardwalk on a 70 degree day in January and see HOARDS of people smiling and chirping to each other about how amazing the weather is, you don’t need a scientist to declare that winter=a case of the sads. I dig the beat of this song and I’m dangerously close to getting “Let me see the sunshine, shine, shine” tatted up on my forehead cause that’s my damn life motto. Show me the sunshine, baby! Get me out of the blues and gimme dat VITAMIN D.
9. Borderline. Ope, right back down. Going from letting me see the sunshine to “sadness always finds an in” is a real drop down into the dumps and I wasn’t prepared for it nor will I ever be. I don’t want this song, plain and simple. Look, I get that when you’re grieving there’s very few rays of light that peek through. And I get that this song is about finding a balance between the light and the dark. But I also need a little more light now. We’re 9 tracks in and I feel like I’m watching Titanic, if Titanic were to kill someone off every 20 minutes instead of the entire ship dying all at once at the end. Yanno what I’m saying? I really am a sucker for the violin (must come from my hardcore days of headbanging to Yellowcard and watching their violinist do backflips off the amp on their live concert DVD) but it’s kinda like we’re listening to the string quartet as the ship is sinking. And for that reason, I’m out.
10. Spark*. Hey you know what’s hard to keep alive in a marriage that’s supposed to last FOR-EV-ER? The spark. Everyone knows it. As you say your vows with heart eyes beaming at each other you probably don’t picture yourself 40 years down the line wanting to literally pluck your husband’s teeth out one by one if you have to hear him chew a banana one more time. If that sounds oddly specific, please know it’s because it is an actual observation of my parents, whose every movement irritates the other to their very core. SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN MARRIAGE, FOLKS! But it’s chaps like Eds who give us a beacon of light showing that men can be romantics too! He wants to keep the spark alive with Chez and in their doc, they shared how they have scheduled date night into their routine so that they can keep reminding each other why they got married in the first place. How stinkin cute. Also, the orchestra backing during the bridge of this number was *Chef’s Kiss*.
11. Vega. Insider info that anyone who watched the Disney + doc now knows, Ed wrote this song the same day they got the test results on Cherry’s tumor and were told things weren’t looking good. Not for nothing but if my huz found out I had a cancerous tumor and shut himself away to write a song, I’d be PISSED. Luckily the song is all about how she’s going to be fine and it’s very hopeful and lovely. So all’s well that end’s well, and I learned something new about astrology because it was bugging me that I didn’t know what Vega was. It’s the brightest star in the northern constellation of Lyra (Their daughter’s name) and the 5th brightest star seen from Earth’s night sky. Insert ‘the more you know star’ here. Love when I re-learn something I probably learned in middle school from a pop song! Also Ed is a figurative “star” so the meaning here is xxxtra META.
12. Sycamore. I gotta be honest I’m running out of steam here. I know this is a cathartic release for him to write through these terrible life experiences that many people go through (but most don’t have the talent to turn their feelings in the moment to songs.) And yet, I haven’t specifically experienced this and therefore the relatability is low and it’s feeling like a real Debbie Downer of an album. I almost didn’t do a track by track, but I’m a slave to tradition and as long as I have The Salty Ju, I must continue album reviews of everything Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran ever release. Leave it to me to attach my cart to the two most prolific horses in pop music history. Anyway, this song is about not knowing what’s going to happen to your wife or your unborn child and having to rely on doctors to tell you what’s up. At one point in the doc, Ed said if a fan told him they didn’t like this album, he doesn’t really care. And that’s what I like to call fuck you money. He’s making music exclusively for himself now, as is Taylor. If they wanna hold Aaron Dessner hostage in the studio and write a bunch of heavy songs with pianos and strings, they damn sure will and my salty takes aren’t going to stop them.
13. No Strings. The first lyric of this song is “if we make it through this year, then nothing can break us” and I do have one note. I think the lyric should be “if I make it through this album, then nothing can break me.” I will celebrate heavily at the end as I’m sure Chez and Eds did at the start of a new year. All jokes aside, declaring: “‘Cause this is no strings, you are who I love / And that won’t change when we’re fallin’ apart” is couple goals on a billion trillion. Also, trauma bonding is real.
14. The Hills of Aberfeldy*. Oh HELL YEA gimme an Irish lick to end on. It’s no secret that I get AWL the way down to Galway Girl and Nancy Mulligan of the Divide era, so much so that when I set Galway Girl as my ringtone for a solid 2 months after the song came out, my boyfriend at the time NEARLY murdered me having to wake up to an Irish jig every damn morning. OBVIOUSLY read the room of this album, we’re not getting a jig here, it’s more of a solemn loves lost drinking song, but it still has TWINKLE with that music, baby. I accept and I want to just twirl barefoot in a dark countryside bar. Kewl fact (another one from Genius Lyrics) this song was written over 10 years ago and was always meant to be the closer on Subtract. I’ve been working on a humor piece for over a year, does that mean if I let it simmer for 9 more, it’ll be published one day? Asking for myself because working is a generous term for opening the document every few months and then closing it 3 weeks later when I realize I haven’t made one edit to it. WE ARTISTS ARE SUCH TORTURED SOULS. I’m all about sticking with the OG ending even when the album took a sharp left turn from what it was originally supposed to be.
15. Wildflowers (Bonus Track) You know what’s fun about the state of the music industry today where no one is looking to release radio-hits one at a time? You get bonus tracks out the G-D wazoo because nothing needs to be cut anymore when you can just release all of your work via streaming platforms. Looking at you Morgan Wallen and your THIRTY SIX SONG album. Seriously, I smashed play on Morgan’s album while driving my dad to JFK last week knowing that I’d be stressed in traffic and not want to pick new music and that sucker lasted me the whole trip there and half of the way back. Morg-Dawgz is out here dropping RT JFK airport dropoffs like it’s no big thang. UGH sorry I got heated, guys. This new era of music is a little overwhelming. We don’t need a release of every song ever written. Some can be kept for personal enjoyment. That being said, I like the lyrics of this song but it’s boring AF. I feel like we could’ve gone in another direction here to spice it up a little, or just left it on the cutting room floor. They can’t all be winners.
16. Stoned (Bonus Track) I know this song was written by Ed Sheeran but I can’t help but wonder if maybe my ex-boyfriend was a ghost writer on the chorus? Oohh sick burn, Julia. I have to imagine this song was written for the original Subtract many moons ago, as Ed is married with kids and not crying himself to sleep stoned out of his gord.
17. Toughest (Bonus Track) THANK GOD we get a little pep in this chorus. I’m all for this song not only because I can finally bop my noggin again, but because it’s about his wife being tough, which if you’ll remember way back to the beginning of this blog, I called her one tough chick. And if I’m saying that after seeing a canned version of her on a documentary, imagine how tough she is IN REAL LIFE. Cheers to tough chicks (all of them, have you seen how big a baby’s head is? Men could never.) Who run the world? GURLZ.
18. Moving (Bonus Track) Another song completely out of left field in context so I’m guessing it was an old one. I kinda dig it, it sounds completely different than the rest of his songs like he’s trying something new. You know when it’s a great time to try something new? After I just listened to 17 tracks that were depressing as hell. Solid change-up at the very end.
Overall Notes: This was a cave of darkness (not to be confused with a cave of wonders, boy) and I’m about ready to demand Ed open those curtains and show us some sunshine. As always, beautifully written. Because as Ed said himself when explaining how obnoxious these court cases challenging his songwriting have been…why are you punishing him for being good at his job? If he can sit down and write a magnum opus of a song in a half hour, does that mean we should sue him and accuse him of stealing another person’s work? No we shall not. But can we sue him for damages after my tear ducts crap out from listening to this album/watching the doc? LMK, cause I’d like to collect on that. I’m ready for some happier trails ahead from Eds! Perhaps with more Irish flavor?
Updated Official Salty Ju Ranking: 1. Divide 2. Multiply 3. Plus 4. Equals 5. Subtract