Not even COVID-19 could stop Ed Sheeran from dropping his new album, “=” (pronounced “equals”), on schedule Friday morning.
But the English singer-songwriter — who announced he had contracted the coronavirus last weekend — had to have a solo album release party from his quarantine. Still, he kept up with his promotional commitments virtually on Thursday with an Apple Music “First Listen” livestream event.
“I rarely, rarely cancel s – – t, but it was quite heavy at the beginning of the week, and I’ve rested a lot, [taken] a lot of vitamin C and zinc and D and these pills, and I feel a lot better now,” Sheeran, 30, told Zane Lowe in the event, which you can still stream on Apple Music.
Sheeran has been getting so many well wishes that he’s stopped looking at them. But one famous friend who has been regularly checking in on him is Elton John.
“I think people think I’m exaggerating and lying when I say he calls every day,” Sheeran told Apple Music. “He calls me every single morning. Even if it’s like 10 seconds, every single morning he calls.”
Their connection deepened after Sheeran’s close friend and mentor Michael Gudinski — who he has called a “father figure” — died in March. “When Michael passed away, he rung me the day after to check how I was, and I really wasn’t good,” Sheeran said. “And then just from that point he’s literally ringing me every single day.”
Gudinski’s death inspired “Visiting Hours,” one of the highlights of “=” (which, just in case you haven’t been keeping track, continues Sheeran’s symbol-themed streak of album titles after 2011’s “+,” 2014’s “x” and 2017’s “÷”).
“I wish that heaven had visiting hours,” Sheeran sings on the beautifully conceptualized ballad that swells to gospel heaven.
Elsewhere, tracks such as “Overpass Graffiti” have more of the ’80s synth-pop vibes heard on hit “=” singles “Bad Habits” and “Shivers.” Clearly, Sheeran has had The Weeknd’s “After Hours” album on repeat.
Then there are wedding-song-ready ballads, such as the acoustic-guitar-laced “First Times,” which celebrate Sheeran’s marital bliss with Cherry Seaborn, his wife of two years. “I can’t wait to make a million more first times,” he croons ever-so-earnestly.
Meanwhile, “The Joker and the Queen” is a piano ballad that showcases Sheeran’s knack for nailing the perfect conceit: “And I know you could fall for a thousand kings/And hearts that would give you a diamond ring/When I fold, you see the best in me/The joker and the queen.”
It’s an Elton-esque moment that no doubt makes the Rocket Man proud.