Ed Sheeran‘s latest musical endeavor, Autumn Variations, which arrives just four months after the soul-baring ‘-’ (pronounced Subtract), proves to be a cloying and seasonal-themed effort that lacks the depth of his previous work.
Earlier this year, Sheeran embarked on an Album Campaign with “-,” delving into his personal life and revealing the weighty challenges he faced, including the loss of his best friend Jamal Edwards and his wife’s life-threatening health battle during pregnancy. This album was well-received for its emotional depth.
However, Autumn Variations doesn’t carry the same emotional weight. Inspired by Edward Elgar‘s 1899 composition “Enigma Variations,” where the theme’s interpretations are influenced by friends and peers, Sheeran attempts to give the concept an autumnal twist. He suggests that the arrival of falling leaves frames the upheaval in his friends’ personal lives, including breakups, breakdowns, and cozy moments. Yet, the album’s thematic execution is as subtle as a pungent cinnamon candle choking a room, lacking the nuance found in his previous work.
The album’s songwriting lacks the nuance and specificity of Sheeran’s last album, making Autumn Variations feel like aimlessly swiping through Instagram, with blurry snapshots of followers’ autumnal experiences passing by in a distracted daze. Tracks like “The Day I Was Born” and “American Town” come across as petulant and generic, missing the emotional resonance found in his earlier work.
Aaron Dessner‘s signature sound, known for its acoustic and malleable qualities, feels somewhat tired on this album. The production, while consistent, doesn’t stand out as it once did. The album’s sonic footprint is faint and unmemorable, leaving Sheeran’s melodies, though impeccable, as the sole highlight.
Despite some attempts to explore new sonic territories, including glitchy soundscapes reminiscent of Dessner’s work with The National, Autumn Variations ultimately falls short. It provides a lackluster conclusion to Sheeran and Dessner’s creative collaboration, which took them out of their comfort zones.
In the end, Autumn Variations leaves listeners yearning for the arrival of spring and summer, hoping for a return to Sheeran’s more compelling and emotionally resonant music.