Off the back of his Mathematics Tour, Ed Sheeran has hit the finish line for the album series with what perhaps was always meant to be that ribbon cut-off: subtract. The reasoning for so is poetic, too, even if laced with sadness! After a decade of work, diving into the sort of acoustic hymns that belong in the anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota, a series of events spiraled out in Ed’s life that made him hit the writer’s substitute for subtract, the backspace button. In its replacement are tunes sparked by various tragedies. These circumstances are so personal to Ed that a documentary is its companion piece, coming out on May 3rd on Disney+ and the album just two days later.
We have to admit that The Sum Of It All sounds like a really cool title name. It’s got our gears turning to wonder what the equation of Ed Sheeran would look like. Sure, we almost have a complete mathematics album series, but are there particular songs from them that aid it? We’re thinking of equations as the docuseries’ themes: love, loss, focus, and balance. So which song from Ed’s discography would make the perfect match for that particular episode and therefore be a part of our equation playlist so we can then figure out The Sum Of It All, the sum of Ed?
To understand The Sum Of It All, it makes sense to travel back to those early days before Ed defeated the fame game and grew to unbelievable record success. So it was in his first meeting with media entrepreneur Jamal Edwards in 2010. They created the stumbling blocks that found them an audience on the internet with ‘The A Team,’ a song that Ed tuckered into his Mathematics Tour with the speech that no one seemed to care about the track at first when he was playing it in local pubs. Now well over 109,500 fans sing it back to him during one stadium sitting! However, sometimes no matter how impressive, success can leave one on a sour note, looking for something more, and that something more came in the shape of his wife, Cherry Seaborn.
Their romantic tale follows the childhood friends-to-lovers trope, having met in school. The delicate guitar strums of ‘Perfect’ from the ÷ album synchronize with its unfoldings as she was his muse, therefore starting our equation. However, the episode also explores Cherry’s unfortunate tumor diagnosis when she became pregnant with their second child.
Sometimes when life’s woes come tumbling in, it’s better to seek out those places where you felt safer as a kid. Though those woes came a little later on, Ed was in the right place to deal with them, his old English hometown, which he moved back to. However, unexpectedly Jamal dies. This second episode takes us through his memorial — which we know Ed created one of his own, performing ‘F64’ as a tribute at an empty Stamford Bridge, the football club Chelsea’s home stadium. Though we’ll come back to this a little later!—to then Ed performing an impromptu intimate gig for his hometown.
Off his = album, ‘Visiting Hours’ is the perfect song for this part of the equation. Although written for Michael Gudinski, a record executive and promoter who has done massive things for the Australian music industry, this track has the same bottled-up essence as ‘Supermarket Flowers.’ They both delicately move one through the grieving process. If we’re deliberating over where exactly we’d be upon listening to the tune, we could potentially say it’s bargaining. “I wish that heaven had visiting hours / So I could just show up and bring the news” to acceptance in “I wish that heaven had visiting hours / And I would ask them if I could take you home.”
The third episode declares that Ed’s one to see something through, no matter if it takes a twistier journey than he initially thought. He brings us into the world of ‘Eyes Closed,’ firstly pouring out the lyrics in 2018, to it now being the latest single from his discography. It may not be the only one either, as the docuseries makes us privy to the process of him creating 14 music videos for the Subtract album! While other dreams chase, Cherry worries if his career is a means of escapism, and we may wonder the same after an emotional performance of songs from the album, never before heard ones.
Upon deliberating over the track for episode three’s part of the equation, ‘I See Fire,’ off the x album and also on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’s soundtrack is our top contender. It has that ethereal call to it, talking about the day’s end and a sense of celebration for what’s transpired: “And if we should die tonight / Then we should all die together / Raise a glass of wine for the last time.”
Before the documentary’s journey ends and we leave knowing Ed a lot better than we did before, the final episode has him returning to somewhat of normalcy, promoting the Mathematics Tour in America and catching up with Stormzy to ponder over the subtract album. As we discussed earlier, Ed also started to write the ‘F64’ rap in dedication to Jamal, with Cherry getting good news about her health.
Therefore, our ending song for The Sum Of It All equation comes from the first mathematics album he ever put out, +, ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You.’ The song talks about Ed’s trials and tribulations as an artist. But, at the end of the day, he knows what he’s capable of and, therefore, his worth as a singer. It’s very much where we seem to leave him as the screen fades to black.
The Sum Of It All
Everyone in the world knows and loves Ed Sheeran’s songs, as he has been the soundtrack to so many moments of our lives. But this series of films shows the true man behind the hits, showing Ed in an entirely different way after a tumultuous year personally and professionally. This four-part series has been an honor for us to make.
Fulwell 73 partners Ben Turner and Ben Winston
Overall, this is the first time Ed’s explored the documentary style as a way for fans to look inside his personal life, opting for the more academic route, like his songwriting process, in past attempts to use this media vehicle. While this makes The Sum Of It All exciting, the structure has grabbed us! Plucking us out from an often usual void of behind-the-scenes Ed—his team regularly runs his socials, hence the front-facing Ed Sheeran HQ as his Twitter account—straight into the thick of it!
A lot has happened, so this isn’t an ordinary musician documentary that prods at a return to their routines. If we ever wanted to know who Ed is behind his pedal loop, then now’s the time. However, we’re not thrown into the deep end as performances in serene venues for his classic bangers will help round off the archival footage and real-time interviews with loved ones.
The final mathematics installment – or pronounced as subtract, comes out May 5th, 2023, and can be pre-ordered here! Interestingly, in a Rolling Stone article, Ed talked about continuing his legacy of turning symbols into album series with the hope of another one that can continue past his death. If you’re as excited as we are to see what that could turn into and, therefore, full of guesses, tweet us over @thehoneypop and follow along on our Instagram and Facebook pages!
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