Ed Sheeran turned into a global superstar after the release of 2014's x and while fame did his head in a bit -- he took a year off of social media, a hiatus that happened to coincide with the time he worked on his third album -- it's also true that fame suits him. That much is clear from Divide, the album he released to eager anticipation in March 2017. Compared to its two predecessors, Divide -- which, like its predecessors, has its title rendered as a mathematical symbol -- is colorful and lithe, casually hopscotching from style to style without ever drawing attention to its range. Sheeran long ago perfected his rapping busker schtick, which frees him to fulfill his destiny as an adult alternative troubadour. Such sentimental smashes as "Thinking Out Loud" paved the way for Sheeran to plump up Divide with love songs and unveiled confessions, which, in turn, lets him play around with different styles throughout the album. "Dive" finds Sheeran easing into old-fashioned Memphis soul, a supple groove countered by his decision to go full Celtic on "Galway Girl" and, on the deluxe edition, he celebrates Spain on "Barcelona" and dabbles in Graceland-styled Afro-beat on "Bibia Be Ye Ye." Ultimately, these splashy sounds are merely accouterments on an album that leans heavily on Sheeran's sentimentality yet this flair gives Divide welcome color, helping to put his standard tricks in sharp relief. Sheeran can still be clumsily literal -- the worst arrives earliest, when he sniffs "friends and family filled with envy when they should be filled with pride" on "Eraser" -- but such stumbles are balanced by flashes of cutting wit, such as the dissection of the "New Man" of his old lover. Despite this wordplay, the chief appeal of Divide is Sheeran's musicality, particularly his facility in turning his folk-rap into adult pop. Throughout the record, Sheeran seems assured in his smooth schtick, and that cheesy confidence, combined with the hints of new style, help make Divide his easiest album to enjoy.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine