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  • Damaris Chanza

My Thoughts on Ed Sheeran's New Visual Album, Subtract

I know I'm biased, but Ed Sheeran's new album Subtract is incredible.

Although I've always loved music, I've never considered myself much of a fangirl or groupie. There was never one artist that held up on a pedestal as excellent until Ed Sheeran's + came out in 2011.

I've listened to just about every song and watched every video.

With the release of - as the final installment of the mathematics albums, I was ready to indulge in all the related content. Sadly, a touch of sickness and some scheduling conflicts didn't allow me to be in the state of mind I desired to consume all that content. So I waited.

Now that things are back on track, I'm ready to watch the visual album and share some of my thoughts.

I want to clarify this isn't a review; it would be too biased.

Watch the videos to follow along with my thoughts.

Subtract Intro

Is the thumbnail a scene from the documentary? I feel like I saw that in the trailer

The water looks like a common motif

Castle on the hill? Nope

What the f...

Okay, that was not a scene from the documentary

He's drowning

Was that the life flashing before my eyes thing?


Oooh, nice transition. I didn't even notice the video changed.

Oh, he's actually in this video. That's cool

Oh, He's the boat fighting the waves

Cool slow-mo

What's the significance of all the broken things falling from the sky?

The waves or struggles broke everything else but not him.

Memorable Lyric: "The more I love, the less I feel."

Salt Water

Back drowning in the water from the intro

He's out of the water now, walking on dry land, flashbacks to the water

Is he asking the salt water to take him as he's depressed and just saying you know what, now is my time to go?

Does that mean the grass version is the out-of-body experience thing where you think about the life you've lived?

Birds to represent freedom?

He was saved, so it was just a dream probably means that suicidal thought was just a passing one and not something he'd act on

This is all lot deeper than I thought it would go.

Memorable Lyric: "It was just a dream

Come and kiss me salt water

I'm free in salt water."

Eyes Closed

Again in the car drowning

Now he's at a bar

I already know I like this song from the radio

The fluffy monster is pretty funny, but I think he signifies depression, how that sadness that looms over you can feel comfortable and easy to run to

No one would run to depression and sink into sadness if it was scary

Oh, everyone has a monster

Pause. Is this fluffy monster meant to represent internal demons?

He walked to the water and left.

Water seems to be the whole sink-into-depression thing, so is this him fighting his way through trying not to be affected, maybe suppressing his feelings?

Memorable Lyrics: "I'm still holding back these tears when my friends are somewhere else."

"The truth is now your gone, and life goes on."

Life Goes On

Drowning again

He's on a ship now anchored in an empty marina

Oh, He's attached to the anchor, not the ship


There's water and dark shadowy figures

He's watching them from the ship, and they're kind of just floating away. Oooh, it's the way time passes, the water (maybe the tears) dried, and the people are gone, not the loss but maybe the support system. If not, it's just to show that he's letting life move on around him while he's stuck in this feeling.

He's on chains, all beaten up, but the scars keep disappearing then he's bleeding from his heart.

This is about emotions. Those are emotional scars, but his heart literally breaks, and even that disappears too because he's meant to move on from that, but he doesn't know how, so he just lays there. It's not like he does anything to make it go away. He closes his eyes and hopes it does. Aka, the meaning of the last song

Memorable Lyric: "I'm so afraid I need you to know to tell me how life goes on when you've gone ice cold."

I think the videos are a compilation of his thoughts while almost drowning, so they keep going back to it. He never wanted to end his life, but the car accident did it for him, so he figured out why to fight. I hope it gets more hopeful.


The kid jumps on his bed. Aww, that's his daughter's. They're playing and happy together.

Ohh is this his thing worth fighting for - his family

They're baking something

The water is both good and bad in these videos

Oh, it's pancakes love that

I still don't get the dusty thing. Is that his daughter's nickname or something ohh, drop the needle on Dusty. Is that the song they listen to during their fun morning routine? That's cute

Memorable Lyric: "All of the pressure washed away with the low tide."

End of Youth

Foreboding name

Drowning again

He's at a basketball court

The lyrics instantly are deep, saying he is depressed and fighting it with wine.

Kids are playing around him, but he's alone and unmoving

I think the kids represent happiness as in that youthful happiness is now gone because "pain is taking over."

Omg the kid drew her fluffy monster

The kids are lip syncing

Lord, that's intense, was youthful happiness ever really there

Damn, this one got me

Memorable Lyric: Once the kid showed up with her monster, I lost it and forgot all the lyrics


Drowning again

At the beach in the daytime now in front of a whiteboard on a stool

There's paint everywhere

He's assigning colors to his emotions, I think

Oh, if all his emotions are colors and he's colorblind, does that mean he's emotionally numb?

This imagery is beautiful-the painting in slow-mo

I'm not sure where this falls under the storyline of the album; he's numb

This one was very poetic

Memorable Lyric: Honestly, I don't know. I was utterly captivated by the video.


Drowning again

He's walking in the woods. It's foggy

Where are all these people coming from

Okay, so hide and seek is the theme for this one

He's trying not to get sucked into the chaos

Oh, pause. "Pull the curtains, see the sunshine," is he finally coping

In the blue, he's lost and fighting, and the lyrics move faster

Yellow, he's happy he's not so lost

This low-key reminds me of that Twilight fight in the woods

Memorable Lyric: I was too busy laughing at my Twilight reference


Drowning oh square screen

Black and white now

He's in a house still by the water

Oh, lots of different locations, actually


Oh, borderline like between life and death

If he's drowning, he's still deciding whether he should fight or not

Oh, the lack of color after colorblind to reinforce the numbness is brilliant

Memorable Lyric: At this point, I'm fully invested in the storyline of the videos; I'm probably going to have to listen to the songs separately after this


Drowning still

We're in color now

Is that a paper boat

Okay, the first song was Boat, and it was like, oh, nothing can sink my boat, and now the boat is made of paper.

He was on the boat, so he was feeling weak

He's at the piano

Pause is the lyric "build a fire and torch our own life"??? That can't be right, right?

Uh, uh, no, I'm rewatching it


Is it old life?

Words as kindle?

This one's about fire, but the motif has been water

Is this the anger stage of grief but in a reflective way

These birds in the background were probably an accident, but it feels significant

No, how could birds be freaking out for that long? Did they put crumbs

It shows him walking away from the piano after playing the last notes

Is this like looking for the spark that makes you want to live life, searching for purpose even when everything is a disaster

Memorable Lyric: "Couldn't stop the ocean leaking in the crack."


Drowning still

Is he walking in a circle? In the sand while wearing a giant blue coat

He's wrapped in his sadness (the blue coat)

It's a spiral

Is Vega something I don't know about because I don't get the reference

Ohh he's making a lot of these connecting spirals

He's talking about fighting the waves, but it feels useless, I think

Will she be okay? Is this one specifically about when his wife was sick and not his friend?

Have to look this up.

Memorable Lyric: I spent too much time wondering what Vega meant


Drowning again

At the beach on a giant branch

Oh, He's leaking from his heart

The water or depression has penetrated. There's no fighting it; it's literally pouring out of him.

But he's talking about flowers and trees, as in life

Ohhhhhh, his kid! His wife had a tumor while pregnant, right

This must've been so hard for him and therapeutic to write this, but to go back to it for the sake of the video must have been so tough

No Strings

Still drowning

There's a ladder

He's hanging on

Is this about his relationship?

Is he hanging on to their love despite the hardship? It could be about loving his baby or his friend.

Ooh, the ladder broke

It was just an obstacle he needed to get past

Now he's climbing

Oh, but the broken step is holding him back

Another one broke, and he fell

He's not even going to try again; that's it

Memorable Lyric: Man, I'm too busy trying to manage my emotions to take a deep dive into the lyrics

The Hills of Aberfeldy

The car has wholly sunk now

He's in a field

He's wearing all light clothes and lying down

Is this innocence?

He's sinking

Is this his burial?? The death of his innocence??

Fade to black

In the water again in the car

The bracelet has his friend's name on it

Oh, He's awake and swimming to freedom

He's in a yellow jacket, just walking away

The yellow jacket is a good juxtaposition from all the blue to signify he's trying to be happy and not succumbing to sadness.

There's no more fight but no revelation into happiness, either, and it's just time to move on.

I get it now when his friend died and so did Ed's innocence, but you have to just keep going.

Memorable Lyric: At this point, I'm not sure why I'm still including this section

This was beautiful. The simplicity in the storytelling and the motifs was incredible. I can't wait to watch every interview, behind-the-scenes video, and documentary to fill in some of the gaps that I missed.

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