Autumn Variations

Autumn Variations

As Ed Sheeran was crafting his sixth studio album, 2023’s - (pronounced “subtract,” the last in his mathematical album series), something else began to take shape. Just three months after -’s arrival, Sheeran unveiled Autumn Variations, made in tandem with the most personal record he’d ever produced. But if - was about the seismic life events Sheeran had weathered—the sudden death of his best friend, the discovery that his wife had a tumor while pregnant with their second child, Sheeran’s experiences of depression and anxiety—Autumn Variations was shaped by events occurring in his friends’ worlds, too. “Last autumn [in 2022], I found that my friends and I were going through so many life changes,” said Sheeran in a statement. “After the heat of the summer, everything either calmed, settled, fell apart, came to a head, or imploded.” Perhaps surprisingly for a megastar singer-songwriter most commonly associated with pop, hip-hop, and folk, inspiration for the shape of Autumn Variations came from the classical world. The album’s title is a nod to Elgar’s Enigma Variations, a work of 14 compositions about the English composer’s friends, which Sheeran’s father and composer brother Matthew had told him about. Sheeran’s compositions were made alongside The National’s Aaron Dessner—the producer who collaborated with Taylor Swift on folklore and evermore, and who Sheeran tapped up for -. Announcing the album, Sheeran spoke of how he “clicked immediately” with Dessner: “We wrote and recorded non-stop and this album was born out of that partnership.” Autumn Variations still finds Sheeran in -’s intimate, string-laden, and often acoustic settings, fueled by Dessner’s intricate, organic, and appropriately cozy production. Yet things feel brighter, lighter, as though the dark clouds that hung over - have largely cleared. There are light-footed guitars (“Midnight”; “England,” which heralds the cobweb-clearing power of the British coastline against crashing-wave-like drums), Sheeran’s trademark rapping (“That’s on Me,” which layers Sheeran’s voice over Dessner’s characteristically sinewy strings), and sing-along choruses (“Amazing”). But there are also soft, whispered acoustic ballads (“When Will I Be Alright,” “Blue”) and minor-chord outpourings (“Punchline”). And the stories Sheeran tells move from new love (“Magical”) and fresh starts (the sweet, Friends-referencing “American Town”) to harder times laced with regret, loneliness, and wishing you could just get out of your own way. “Every time I crack a smile I can sense another tear coming,” he sings on “Amazing.” Since 2021’s =, Sheeran’s music has often concerned itself with the realities of getting older, from the good (becoming a father, turning 30, feeling more at one with the person you’ve chosen to spend your life with) to the painful: loss, ill health, grief. On Autumn Variations, Sheeran doesn’t shy away from those complexities (“Is this just getting older?” he muses on “That’s on Me”; on “Punchline,” he similarly asks, “Is this just growing up?”), but there’s also optimism that sunnier times will come back round; that, eventually, the seasons do change. “I’m holding out for spring,” sings Sheeran on “Spring.” “We can’t let winter win.”

Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada