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Here are the standout tracks in Ed Sheeran's new album 'Subtract'


On the heels of his victory in a copyright lawsuit last week, singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has a new album out. It's called "Subtract," and it is the final installment in his mathematical symbol series that began in 2014. Maura Johnston is a music writer and contributor to Rolling Stone magazine and walked us through a few standout tracks.


ED SHEERAN: (Singing) Been inside for most this year, and I thought a few drinks - they might help.

MAURA JOHNSTON: This is "Eyes Closed," the first single from "Subtract."


SHEERAN: (Singing) Every song reminds me you're gone. And I feel the lump form in my throat 'cause I'm here alone, just dancing with my eyes closed 'cause everywhere I look, I still see you.

JOHNSTON: He had a really rough time in the beginning of 2022. His friend, the music mogul Jamal Edwards, passed away. His then-pregnant wife discovered a tumor in her body that could not be operated on until the baby that she was carrying was delivered. And he also just descended into depression. And he wrote through all of that. The lyrics of the song really vividly describe depression and the wringer that a person goes through when they experience grief.


SHEERAN: (Singing) I lost more than my friend. I can't help but missing you. I pictured this month a little bit different. No one is ever ready. And when it unfolds, you get in a hole. Oh, how can it be this heavy? Everything changes. Nothing's the same, except the truth is now you're gone. And life just goes on. So I'm dancing with my eyes closed.

JOHNSTON: I think it's an indication of the closer-to-the-bone approach that this record has and that Sheeran is taking to his songwriting.


SHEERAN: (Singing) Oh, the leaves are covered in snow. And the water is frozen. Oh, I long for you to be the one that I'm holding.

JOHNSTON: This is "The Hills Of Aberfeldy." This is the final track on "Subtract." Ed Sheeran's been working on this mathematical symbol project for over a decade now. And this particular song he had kind of earmarked as the finale of the project from pretty much its beginning.


SHEERAN: (Singing) When I'm home, I'll hold you like I'm supposed to. Yet I know I have never told you. Darling, we could fall in love 'neath the hills of Aberfeldy.

JOHNSTON: It's a string-accented Celtic folk song. It brings together the traditions that Ed Sheeran's music is rooted in and his pop present. You can kind of see, when you hear this song, mist-covered fields rolling over the hills and this kind of grayish morning and then Ed Sheeran in a parka with a scarf viewing the landscape that's rolling before him and wishing that his love was with him, realizing the depth of his feeling.


SHEERAN: (Singing) When I'm home, I'll hold you like I'm supposed to.

JOHNSTON: Four or five years ago, this may have been given, you know, a much more deluxe, blown-out treatment. But here, he just lets the songwriting kind of shine, and it really makes for an affecting last track.

KELLY: That was music writer Maura Johnston. Ed Sheeran's new album, "Subtract," is out now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.