Monday, December 28th, 2020

Ed Sheeran – Afterglow

If you thought 2020 was finally going to be the year TSJ didn’t do an Ed Sheeran single, well, he and we both had other plans…

Jeffrey Brister: Eric Whitacre and “Hide and Seek” entered my life simultaneously at a critical moment. Delicate voices singing through dense vocal harmonies catch my heart like few things do — it’s one of those things that shorts out my critical circuits, turning “probably not very good” into “this’ll do.” It’s why I watch the “Vet Tech Tiktok” so much. Sheeran isn’t attempting any vocal or compositional feats, and he definitely isn’t doing anything particularly interesting, but that little flourish covers up a lot of the dullness of the song.

Andrew Karpan: The bug-or-a-feature element of Sheeran’s songs is that he writes them from a place of aww-shucks contemplative pity, a sorrow that ricochets off his dour pipes onto his subject before looping back like a boomerang. On this acoustic throwaway, the now-married Sheeran sounds positively forlorn about the prospect of eternal love that he’s signed onto and has transposed these anxieties onto his beloved, who appears here like an angel, complete with trippy multicolor halo. (“A million colors of hazel, golden, and red,” hang off her head, the bard sings.) For now, Sheeran had committed to hanging in there, his fingers clinging desperately onto the titular afterglow, mustering memories of wandering around in the snow, which surely isn’t my idea of a honeymoon. But Sheeran doesn’t quite have the voice or the register to sell this midlife crisis as a moody banger and instead it just sorta sits there.

Frank Falisi: Like finding a mix CD your old old crush made you in 2008, the grin you split when you hear Imogen Heap on it. This strum doesn’t mean like it used to but it did and does mean something and I’m grateful to flit with it.

Austin Nguyen: After venturing all the way out to Mexico in a vain attempt to find his (nonexistent) sex appeal, Ed Sheeran has finally concluded that home is where the horny heart is. Which, to some extent, is a relief; hearing him flirt at a bar was basically another iteration of that Heathers line: “Kurt Kelly. Quarterback. He is the smartest guy on the football team. Which is kind of like being the tallest dwarf.” At the same time though, Sheeran’s habit of busking ~ sincerity ~ and ~ sensitivity ~ now has an aftertaste of complacency rather than comfort. Otherwise stated: You invested all that time making an entire album of collaborations, and came away with nothing? Granted, there are changes (two, to be specific, the bare minimum for pluralization), but was it really that great of an idea to add Bon Iver-ian vocoder (it wasn’t; it only undercuts the natural harmonies to the point that they sound flat/off-key) and the synth from “Animal”? I’m sure someone — the same English teacher I had who spent seven minutes fangirling over the rhetorical shifts in “Castle on the Hill” probably — will like (dare I say, love) this. I’m sure someone will have an appreciation for the “literary techniques” Sheeran uses that contribute to a “complex” portrayal of romance — personification (“light dances off your hair”), imagery (“hazel, golden and red”), tense change (from past to future in the chorus), etc. — but it won’t be me. Because I don’t see a sunset worth watching or a relationship deserving of a promise or any other construed profundity; what I see is Ed being Ed, sifting through his Hot 100 history to recycle the same pseudo-poetic detail, with an edit here and there: The setting defaults to winter. “Stop the clocks,” “time’s forever frozen” or some other moment-fossilizing lyric. Intimacy is determined by whatever beverage is in your hand. Instead of “Tiny Dancer,” Iron & Wine gets a mention in the verse. And the eyes continue to be the gateway to love’s future, not the palms. Each time, the formula works, propagating itself to coffee houses, high school proms, contemporary dance routines, the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack, and so it continues in its two-three year cycle. “Ed Sheeran blows the dust off of his guitar to gift a song that could’ve been laying in the attic for the last 5 years,” the headline reads. Is it too late to make a return?

Katherine St Asaph: One last disturbing development of 2020: I’m starting to like Ed Sheeran songs. Not just “songs,” either, but this particular song, which is a bath of sap, whose second verse crashes into the forte register with all the subtlety of a meteoroid piloted by Leeroy Jenkins; whose constant vocoding sounds like it’s disguising what sure seems like a catastrophic a cappella vocal; with an Iron & Wine shoutout that’s even more of a “please take me seriously again” batsignal than Folklore/Evermore were; that on the whole sounds sounds like a bet that megachurches will come back before Ed gets another No. 1 hit (so, in about two weeks). I didn’t ask for this. Please end this year.

Tobi Tella: There’s a point when it comes to hated artists, both personally and by the Discourse, where I have to stop and consider if I’m really being fair to them. The first thing that came to mind to complain about was the weird vocoder overdub, but wouldn’t I just call it boring if it was one vocal line? There’s nothing really wrong with the lyric other than being a little generic;  would I think it was brilliant if someone I didn’t hate wrote it? It honestly made me consider my whole Sheeran world view; was he ever bad? Am I just prejudiced against white boys with guitars? Ultimately, I listened again, remembered the whole song is basically played at one level and it does nothing to capture attention or any other emotion other than Great Value romance. Sometimes bad things are just bad!

Anna Katrina Lockwood: Not the greatest timing for Ed Sheeran to so clearly reference Bon Iver’s vocoder sound from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, not two months after that record’s 10th anniversary. 10 years feels neither recent enough to count as riding a trend, nor is it quite long enough past to trigger nostalgia. The lyrics for “Afterglow” are almost exactly as expected — completely trite — with the exception of an Iron and Wine reference that is contextually startling in its thematic irrelevance. For all that, there’s nothing actively offensive about this song, aurally speaking; I simply have no desire to listen to any more British dude murmuring.

John Seroff: Coming soon to a 2022 Lexus and/or De Beers Christmas commercial near you, here’s audio proof that a song can be so utterly innocuous and calculatedly inoffensive that it comes all the way back around to repellant.

Alfred Soto: Dude can write melodies — maybe he could’ve given Taylor Swift a crucial assist on Evermore. Here’s more post-coital twaddle with fewer production gewgaws: Ed Sheeran offering Cat Stevens-ian mush.

Edward Okulicz: A nice melody can take you on a journey, or it can take you precisely nowhere, with dead-end words like “afterglow” on a nice but dead-end song with a title like “Afterglow.” To be good enough at what you do that you can throw this out without an album coming up must be nice, and it must be nice to be one of the millions who hear profundity or beauty in it. But I can’t go that far, it’s really just kind of nice. I also suspect he’s more likely listening to “Mistletoe and Wine” than Iron & Wine these days.

Rachel Bowles: I appreciate that I am not the audience for this; Ed Sheeran has described “Afterglow” as a Christmas present to his fans, which suggests stan wish fulfilment over any attempt at crossover chart appeal to the general listener. With this potentially limited scope in mind, “Afterglow” arguably even fails at fan service; what should essentially be a simple, stripped back, sentimental Dad-rock ballad, is given what can only be described as a nightmarish vocal treatment. The thought process behind this is potentially rational enough, perhaps an electronic multiplicity of Ed Sheerans theoretically could give a thin, saccharine ode to wife and child some much needed gravitas, worthy of its subject matter. In practice sadly the effect is pretty unpleasant and cancels out any poetry in Sheeran’s earnest lyricism.

Thomas Inskeep: My loathing of Sheeran is well-documented, but I have to say, the simplicity of the production on “Afterglow” suits him — and I’m not generally prone to loving the sound of a male voice with an acoustic guitar. The way the vocals are recorded here — is he singing harmony with himself? — sounds great, and the subtle keyboard line that comes in underneath the second verse and chorus is effective as well. I’d love to hate this, but can’t, because it doesn’t earn my hatred; it earns my grudging respect.

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6 Responses to “Ed Sheeran – Afterglow”

  1. @Jeffrey Whitacre is amazing; his compositions are equally fun to sing (can’t believe I sort of miss choir?) and listen to.


  3. ?

  4. Austin: yes! Whitacre is amazing. he packs so much emotion and energy into his composition.
    and the other bit is from the Vet Tech Tiktok, when the dog’s owner claims its nipples are bugs.

  5. I spent way too long trying to figure out if the Black Eyed Peas coined the phrase “love drunk” on “My Humps,” still inconclusive. Regardless, my opinion remains that the phrase “love drunk” sounds weird and gross on a song like this.

  6. (from the tiktok)