Is the Ed Sheeran renaissance upon us? In less than a month, Sheerios can anticipate a 4-part Sheeran docuseries on Disney+, as well as a full album entitled “-” (“Subtract”) with accompanying merchandise and live performances. To kick off the new era, Sheeran dropped his upcoming album’s lead single, “Eyes Closed.”
Released on March 24, “Eyes Closed” is Sheeran’s fourteenth single to reach number one in the U.K. The song is a tribute to his late friend Jamal Edwards, who passed away last year.
“This song is about losing someone,” wrote Sheeran in a recent statement on his Instagram. “Feeling like every time you go out and you expect to just bump into them, and everything just reminds you of them and things you did together.”
Despite the resonant grief that inspired Sheeran’s “Eyes Closed,” the song sounds far from sad. From its upbeat tempo to its twangy guitar plucks, the single sounds more like a children’s movie soundtrack than a memento for a lost friend. Sheeran’s emotional struggle is explicitly captured in his lyricism — take the lines, “It's been a while, my dear / Dealin' with the cards life dealt / I'm still holdin' back these tears,” or the pensive question, “I step in the bar, it hit me so hard, oh, how can it be this heavy?” from the chorus. However, when set to a bright pop soundtrack, these sentiments lose their emotional punch.
In contrast to the instrumentation of the song, the music video does a successful job of capturing the mourning tone of “Eyes Closed.” Featuring a large furry animal that shadows Sheeran through his trip to a bar, the video more clearly explores the difficulty of moving through the world after loss.
“Often sadness is something that follows you around engulfing the rooms you’re in,” said Sheeran on his Instagram. “You can feel and see it, but no one else around you can. So I decided to create my own big blue monster for the video.”
The “big blue monster” is a physical manifestation of Sheeran’s lost best friend, and speaks more directly to the mournful tone of the song than its musical composition alone does. Accompanied by clips of Sheeran drowning underwater and drinking heavily at a bar, the music video takes a somber approach to the song’s themes.
Unfortunately, the lyrics of “Eyes Closed” are littered with clichés. Whether this is due to Sheeran’s choice to address such broad emotions as loss and mourning, or whether it has simply become a pattern for the musician, it’s easy to feel that many of the lines in “Eyes Closed” have been heard before. Even the titular line of “dancin’ with my eyes closed'' is fairly redundant, and this is only bolstered by his sentiments that “life just goes on” and “time is movin’ so slow.”
Although many of the lyrics in “Eyes Closed” are fairly literal, it’s clear that the song still carries real feelings. Sheeran himself has been very vocal about the emotion he’s put into his new single.
“This song means the absolute world to me,” said the artist in another Instagram statement. “It's the start of an album I’d been overthinking for years and feel like I’ve finally made the perfect representation of where I am right now.”
Whether “Eyes Closed” is a “perfect representation” of grief or not, it just might mark the beginning of Sheeran’s musical renaissance. While far from the chart-topping domination of the dance tracks on Sheeran’s “Divide,” the single still marks a return to his roots for the English singer-songwriter.
“I’m so excited for the next stage,” Sheeran continued, “and today marks the beginning of that. I hope this song connects with you the way it feels to me when I sing it, I really, really love it. Eyes closed out now, Subtract out May 5th.”
—Staff writer Stella A. Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com. Staff writer Dylan R. Ragas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.