Ed Sheeran unveiled his sixth studio album Subtract on Friday (May 5), but he had one more surprise later in the day for his fans: a full visual album to accompany the emotional studio set.
Featuring a music video for each of the 14 songs on the album’s standard track list, the 12 new visuals join the previously released ones for singles “Eyes Closed” and “Boat” to tell the story of Subtract.
After being sent plunging off a cliff into the ocean in the “Boat” video, the visual album unfolds chapter by chapter as Sheeran performs vulnerable highlights “Life Goes On,” which finds him dragging a giant anchor chained to his ankle as a stark representation of the loss of his best friend Jamal Edwards in February 2022, and “End of Youth,” where he’s surrounded by children playing in a schoolyard as he sorrowfully rues, “It’s been a long year/ And we’re not even halfway there/ Is this the ending of youth/ When pain starts taking over?”
While all of the videos were directed by Mia Barnes in Sheeran’s hometown of Suffolk, England, one of the most powerful visuals of the bunch is the one for “Sycamore,” a subdued ballad revisiting the panic and helplessness the pop star felt in the wake of his wife, Cherry Seaborn, being diagnosed with cancer while six months pregnant with their second daughter. (Thankfully, Seaborn is now cancer-free, as the singer revealed at the premiere for his new Disney+ documentary Ed Sheeran: The Sum of It All.)
Ultimately, Subtract is a story of Sheeran working through his grief and healing process, as demonstrated in the closing mini-movie for “The Hills of Aberfeldy.” “So when I’m home/ I’ll hold you like I’m supposed to/ Yet I know/ I have never told you/ Darling, we fall in love with the hills of Aberfeldy,” the hitmaker sings as he emerges from the ocean, soaked and damaged but ultimately in tact.
Watch Sheeran’s Subtract visual album in full below.