On Subtract, Sheeran directly references the death of Edwards, a music entrepreneur who helped launch his career, as well as his wife Cherry Seaborn’s cancer diagnosis, both of which occurred in early 2022.
Weeks later, Sheeran faced a court case, which he ultimately won, after he was accused of copying elements of his monster 2017 hit Shape of You.
Earlier this year, he faced another copyright trial, after Marvin Gaye’s estate accused him of plagiarising the soul musician’s classic hit Let’s Get It On when composing his 2014 single Thinking Out Loud.
But on Thursday, a US court ruled Sheeran had not copied Gaye’s song. Speaking outside court, the singer said: “If the jury had decided this matter the other way we might as well say goodbye to the creative freedom of songwriters.”
Friday’s release of Subtract had been long-scheduled, but the timing of the court case meant the album came out just hours after the ruling.
Its downbeat nature means the album is lighter on potential chart hits than Sheeran’s previous albums, but it does feature his single Eyes Closed, which reached number one in April.
“Dessner decks out the songs in tastefully muted shades, a sound familiar from Folklore’s softer moments: understated string arrangements; twinkling, spectral synthesizers; gentle breezes of feedback and reverb-drenched electric guitars, the sound of fingers scraping along the strings as loud as the notes,” he said.
“It’s atmospheric and beautifully done, although it can get monotonous: the full drum kit and distorted guitar that kick in on Curtains are curiously jolting.”
He concluded: “Subtract is easily his best album. But it’s also the first Ed Sheeran album since his debut for which you can’t confidently predict eye-watering commercial success.”