Given that swathes of his global fanbase is getting ready to party again, you might have expected Ed Sheeran to return with a slightly cheesy feel-good banger. Instead, the first single from his fifth album – expected later this year, though it hasn’t been announced yet – is a rather darker affair.
The ‘Bad Habits’ of the title don’t refer to Sheeran’s propensity for writing songs as shamelessly cynical as 2017’s ‘Galway Girl’, but to overdoing things a bit when he goes out. “It started under neon lights and then it all got dark,” he sings on the second verse. “I only know how to go too far.”
Co-written and produced with two regular collaborators – FRED and Snow Patrol‘s Johnny McDaid – it’s a lean and economical electro-pop song that seems to borrow the synth line from Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’. ‘Bad Habits’ can’t hope to match that song’s stinging poignancy, but there’s at least some intrigue in hearing this reasonably wholesome A-lister insinuate that he’s a bit of a caner. “My bad habits lead to wide eyes starin’ at space, and I know I’ll lose control of the things that I say,” Sheeran sings on the chorus, shortly before affirming a familiar piece of advice: “Nothin’ happens after two, it’s true, it’s true,” he sighs. ”My bad habits lead to you.”
As a de facto comeback single – in a statement, it’s been billed as his “first official release since his star-studded 2019 team-ups record ‘No.6 Collaborations Project’“, meaning that 2020’s ‘Afterglow’ evidently didn’t happen – it’s neither a misfire nor a surefire winner. At least, that’s to begin with: Sheeran songs have a tendency to burrow into your brain whether you want them to or not, especially when Marks and Spencer gets involved. There’s no doubt that ‘Bad Habits’ will slot comfortably onto radio and Spotify playlists alike, and its crisp chorus feels TikTok-ready.
In a way, it’s not dissimilar to recent Weeknd hits such as ‘Blinding Lights’, which offer a darkish but catchy update of ’80s synth-pop. So perhaps ‘Bad Habits’ isn’t so unexpected after all: it’s a pretty on-trend electro bop from one of the savviest men in pop.