Back with the lead single from his upcoming fifth studio album, Ed Sheeran disappoints with the painfully predictable “Bad Habits.” Despite all of the emphasis that this is Ed’s “official” return to music after the hiatus that followed his No.6 Collaborations Project, Ed actually made a low-impact comeback late last year with the standalone single “Afterglow,” a tender midtempo that recalled the sound of his debut album. While ÷ was undoubtedly a phenomenon of a record (it sold millions and spawned the #1 singles “Shape of You” and “Perfect”), it was still met with criticism for how by-the-numbers and derivative it felt in comparison to Ed’s previous albums. “Shape of You,” for example, wasn’t as singular as “Sing” since it chose to fall in line with the marimba-laden “tropical pop” that dominated the pop music scene at the time. That lack of innovation was excused because, hey, the song was catchy! “Bad Habits” doesn’t have that luxury.
“Bad Habits,” written and produced by Sheeran, Johnny McDaid, and Fred Again, is remarkably empty and underwhelming. Ed already doesn’t have a particularly powerful voice, and the song’s mix does him no favors. He sounds very light here, almost as if he’s fighting the beat for dominance. To that end, the production here is annoyingly one-note. Not much happens, and not much changes. If anything, this sounds like a poorly done copy of a standard Bloodpop production from someone who only heard Bloodpop circa 2017. “Bad Habits” is boring sonically, and even more drab lyrically. Ed croons “My bad habits lead to late nights endin’ alone/Conversations with a stranger I barely know.” Quite frankly, the most these lyrics will inspire is an eye roll and a sigh. The concept of poor decisions induced by alcohol is one that has been done over and over. If Ed was going to do this, he could have at least offered a more interesting approach. In addition to the unimpressive lyrics and production, the droning melody doesn’t even attempt to be interesting at all. “Bad Habits” is bad because every individual component is strikingly below average. Nothing about this marks any artistic growth besides Ed pushing his beloved acoustic guitar further into the background of his songs. Everything about “Bad Habits” sounds several years behind current trends. It’s like Ed is playing catch up instead of forging his own path. Thankfully, Ed’s lead singles are never the best songs on his albums, so there’s still hope for what’s to come.