Music fans get to see the slightly less glamorous side of the record industry when they watch the way Ed Sheeran diligently, brilliantly, and inspiringly works with fellow musicians, producers, singers, family, and friends in Songwriter. It is delightful and enlightening to witness how Sheeran carefully reveals the heart on his tattooed sleeve with every telling song on his latest hit album, Divide.
I’m going to preface this glowing review with a confession. I didn’t care for “The A Team” when the song first came out in 2011. I initially scoffed at Sheeran, assuming he was a wannabe teenage pop star. However, all of my prejudiced misconceptions melted away by the release of his second album, Multiply.
I realized that all the songs I’ve been shamelessly singing along to in the car were Sheeran’s. Whether he sang them himself, gifted these gems or co-wrote them with other artists. (A prime example being Cee-Lo Green’s saucy smash, “Forget You.”) Then I saw how Sheeran seamlessly performed a full set of catchy and clever hits all by himself – acoustically on his guitar or with a looping machine – during his VH1 Storytellers special in January 2015. I was mystified by his undeniable talent and have been impressed with his music ever since. Naturally, I was curious to see him at work in this illuminating documentary.
“…witness how Sheeran carefully reveals the heart on his tattooed sleeve with every telling song on his latest hit album…”
Sheeran’s cousin and life-long buddy, Murray Cummings, has been documenting their journey from the very beginning. Footage of Sheeran honing his craft since childhood is scattered throughout the film. From frolicking boy to pensive producer, we witness how much Sheeran has grown. He even visits his old high school and shares pearls of wisdom with students in his favorite music teacher’s class. He explains how you need to keep at it. Let all the crappy songs pour out of you and then the good ones will start to flow.
This songwriter has always known what he wanted and doesn’t settle for less. He pushes to see his vision through down to the tiniest details, like the arrangement of a melody or the deliberate placement of an edgy instrumental. He follows his gut, promising that the song will be all the better for it. Of course, he ends up being right.
Collaborations look like playful and effortless jam sessions as Sheeran works with notable songwriters. Producer Benny Blanco is a constant presence throughout the making of Divide and accompanies Sheeran as they voyage from America to England, bringing together some of the best in the music industry.
“…the most profound moment in the film is watching Sheeran record “Perfect” at Abbey Road…”
The scarlet-haired troubadour hops around a house in Malibu, dedicating time and energy to different groups of songwriters and producers. It’s like a music-making camp. In the backyard, Foy Vance, John McDaid and Amy Wadge lend their talents to upbeat and European influenced tunes including “Galway Girl,” “Nancy Mulligan” (about Sheeran’s grandparents), and “Barcelona.” Meanwhile, Julia Michaels hangs out inside and chimes in on “Dive.”
Later, a trip to New York unites Sheeran with Ryan Tedder and they sprinkle their magic onto the remorseful ballad, “Happier.” However, the most profound moment in the film is watching Sheeran record “Perfect” at Abbey Road with a stunning symphony. His family sweetly shares this milestone with him. Sheeran and the ensemble deliver a beautiful and powerful rendition of an already heartwarming song that will give you goosebumps. Honestly, it nearly moved me to tears.
Every glimpse behind the curtain brings new meaning to your favorite songs. You discover how intimate and personal this album is for Sheeran and how much it means to his family. After watching Songwriter, you will listen to Divide with a newfound perspective that makes each song sound even better than it did before.
Songwriter (2018) Written and directed by Murray Cummings. Starring Ed Sheeran, Beoga, Benny Blanco, John McDaid, Julia Michaels, Fuse Odg, Matthew Sheeran, Ryan Tedder, Foy Vance, and Amy Wadge.
9 out of 10 diamond records