I dug a trench in my garden and hid in it for a week. I filled my ears with cotton wool and popped vicodin like they were fucking polo mints. I had vivid hallucinations about being Alan Titchmarsh. I did all I could to block it out. But I could still hear it, the sound, the wisp of something airy and light drifting by like a soft tropical breeze…
There’s no escaping Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’. It’s this years ‘Work’ (the Rihanna one), similar in impact, tone and timing. So if it can’t be escaped, I may as well get to the bottom of it. Is this actually any good?
I suppose the first general comment you can say make about the song is that it’s very simple. The entire song is based around a single loop that sounds like someone recorded a child’s music box playing the opening bars of ‘One Man Went to Mow’.
The dancehall flavour is unmistakable, and ‘Shape of You’ can take the faint praise of doing more with the style than Maroon 5’s truly horrendous ‘Don’t Wanna Know’. That’s a whole other article.
Some have lamented the current trend towards dancehall, calling it offensive or god-forbid, a form of appropriation. But ‘Shape of You’ needs a little more of that vibe. Dancehall is sort of a wacky scene and I would have liked something a little more lively and a little less slick. No, it ain’t no ‘Cobrastyle’ that’s for sure.
It is however, unmistakably catchy. The chorus is nicely accented, rising and falling, halting and truncating perfectly.
There’s a nice escalation throughout the track, though it’s done with the kind of subtlety that might not filter through FM radio play. Bass, hand claps, slight electric and acoustic guitars and some further loops broaden the sound and end the song with a fitting sense of climax.
The song actually gets better at roughly the three minute mark, where Sheeran sacks off writing any more verses.
The story of ‘Shape of You’ is that Ed went out with his mates and danced with a girl. Fine topic for a pop song. I mean that’s basically every song on Please Please Me.
You’d think he’d be able to properly articulate the premise. But he doesn’t really. His lyrics are so weird and sexless, it’s like a Martian wrote it.
The lyrics of ‘Shape of You’ are about as sensual as a sandy vagina.
“The club isn’t the best place to find a lover
So the bar is where I go
Me and my friends at the table doing shots
Drinking fast and then we talk slow.“
I assume Sheeran knows what he’s talking about, as his love of booze is fairly legendary at this point. But seriously, what? I assume by the talking slow thing he means slurred speech. Then fucking say that! People talking slowly makes no sense, unless they’re having a stroke, in which case: you’re a dickhead for leaving them to chase sex. Why would this happen to anyone? What were you shotting, lidocaine?
As a side note, plaudits to whoever felt the need to actually analyse this poetry for us on Genius.com.
And things only get weirder from here on:
“You and me are thrifty, so go all you can eat
Fill up your bag and I fill up a plate.“
For Fuck’s sake. You take a girl on your first date to an all-you-can eat buffet. She fills up a bag? A doggy bag? Or did she slap her madras into a fucking Bag for Life to enjoy later?
Sheeran struggles to wrap his personable falsetto around these slip-shod lyrical clunkers. Even the strong chorus enjoys the line “we push and pull like a magnet do”, which is the lamest shit I’ve ever heard, and a grammatical fucking war-crime.
The ‘thrifty’ comment isn’t off-hand: Sheeran was at one point homeless. I’m sure he has known hardship. But come on. He isn’t ‘thrifty’ anymore. He can’t play the everyman then turn blithe to the fact that he does not lead an everyday life.
That is the wider problem with ‘Shape of You’, and to some extent new album ÷ as well. Creatively he’s just spinning his wheels. When a singer reaches a certain level of popularity and airplay, he can either write about what that’s like or pretend it never happened. The emotional core of the song doesn’t ring true.
There is a genius in the simplicity of the central loop, but it’s ultimately let down by sloppy, shitty writing. Love it or hate it, you can expect to be hearing this all year.
Great? Terrible? My conclusion is it goes right down the middle. Do I enjoy it? Yes. It’s a fun and polished pop song. It’s ‘Cheap Thrills Vol. 2’.
Sheeran needs to bury the hatchet. Is he an underdog or the biggest pop star on the planet? To claim both is staggeringly disingenuous.