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‘Boat’ Single Review: Guys, it Only Half-Sunked

3.5 Stars

'Boat' by Ed Sheeran was released on April 21, 2023.
'Boat' by Ed Sheeran was released on April 21, 2023. By Courtesy of Ed Sheeran / Asylum / Atlantic
By Alessandro M. Drake and Emma Y. Miao, Crimson Staff Writers

Ed Sheeran’s newest single, “Boat,” starts out with promise. As he stands on a wavy shoreline, Sheeran's voice carves out a wistful melody above his sparse guitar, in a style reminiscent of his first album, “Plus.”

The light instrumentals and the vocal-heavy nature of the song lead the listener to hone in on Sheeran’s emotionally charged voice, which amplifies the message underlying the song. In this way, the song sets the stage for delivering most of its emotional impact through its lyrics.

However, Sheeran’s lyrics wash out into trite incongruity in “Boat.” The least confusing lines, like “I need to feel elements to remind me / there’s beauty when it’s bleak,” feel cliche and unoriginal.

As one goes deeper into the song, lyrics like “the times that I jumped never were real” become completely disconnected from any narrative arc the song might carry.

The frustrating part is that we know Sheeran can write well in this guitar-backed format — songs like “I See Fire” and “The A Team” exemplify Sheeran’s talent for hard-hitting songwriting. And yet, in “Boat,” Sheeran decides to forego his storytelling skills in exchange for a sea of subpar couplets.

A confused listener may elect to watch the music video for further clarification on Sheeran’s message.

The music video opens with a black screen. Pan to Sheeran wading in a rough sea, the waves crashing on his back. Halfway through the music video, objects start falling from the sky, signifying the memories that pummel him from above as he tries to navigate the uncharted waters of grief and pain.

Sheeran’s body, and soul, by extension, acts like the eponymous boat, lending meaning to the line “the waves won’t break my boat.” Spiritually or physically, Sheeran won’t be broken, even in a world that seems bent on destroying his hope.

The music video paired with the song creates a more raw and complete narrative that the song itself doesn’t deliver. Sheeran’s physicality in the ocean and the eye contact he makes with the camera as he shares a story so obviously meaningful to him sparks real, authentic emotions for the viewer — even if the story is one we may not completely understand.

Perhaps this is the beauty of Ed Sheeran’s songs: his honesty with his listeners. We’re able to feel, through the ridges and valleys of his voice, the heart and emotions behind each line. And at the end of the day, it is this tangibility of Sheeran’s songs that keep us coming back to his stories.

In “Boat,” Sheeran leaves the listener craving more substance, emotional charge, and cohesion. Though new listeners might not be left completely satisfied, “Boat” will certainly entrance Sheerios all over: One can practically already see sniffling audiences waving their flashlights left and right as Sheeran serenades the illuminated blackness on his ‘+-=÷✕ Tour.’

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