Sam Smith – Gloria

Fresh off of their first Grammy win since nearly sweeping the big four categories with their debut back in 2015, Sam Smith’s evolution for their fourth studio album has been quite exciting to watch. After giving listeners a taste of a break from their usual balladry with the 2020 project Love Goes, which introduced a couple dancier elements, Gloria goes nearly all out – though there are still a couple moments where their excellent vocal work gets to shine. With some exciting guests – and also Ed Sheeran – and a trim and concise length, Smith once again delivers a handful of well-executed pop, dance and soul as they lyrically tackle a specifically queer experience of romance more than ever before. While the ambition was raised, the execution does get a little more generic as Smith ventures into unfamiliar territory at times, but Gloria mostly serves as a refreshing second wind for a talented act.

The opening track “Love Me More” has some surface-level lyrics about self-love and an instrumental that’s highly derivative – it sounds almost identical to Dan + Shay’s “10,000 Hours” – but there’s something about Smith’s genuine delivery that makes them able to take a song that would fall so flat under the wing of most artists and wring the emotion out of it. It’s why they’ve always been so successful with their ballads, and they apply the same force to a midtempo pop tune that introduces the themes of the album as Smith steps confidently into every aspect of their identity. “No God,” on the other hand, is a lot less cheesy. Smith doesn’t take their usual maximalist approach with their vocal lines, remaining in a lower register to fit with the smokier, slicker atmosphere of the track – one of the many newer sounds they try out here that really works well for them. The track, unexpectedly based off of “Unholy,” has nothing to do with religion – it instead finds Smith calling out a partner’s downright biblical ego, choral vocals backing them up throughout the chorus to complete its godly nature and adding a lot of necessary rhythmic punch.

We’re already heading into the club blaring a pulsating house beat by the album’s third full track, a location that we remain adjacent to for most of the remainder of its duration. “Lose You” went to the Robyn school of crying on the dance floor, as Smith’s powerhouse vocals cut through the mix, desperately trying to convince a lover not to depart so unexpectedly and abruptly. There’s always been something about Smith’s vocals that have had this slightly whiny quality, but again, where that would be a detriment to most singers, Smith really makes it work for them, leaning into it in the most emotional moments and using the big beat of the track to smooth out the edges. Major pop veterans like Ilya and Cirkut are all over this project, and their work here to juggle quite a few aspects makes it the best-produced song on the album – even when the orchestra fires up at the end of the track, it’s not overpowering. “Unholy” crops up in this area as well, and despite the valid criticisms of its shorter length and its clear play at TikTok glory, it’s still invigorating to hear a song so clearly inspired by SOPHIE resonating throughout the culture. Smith and Kim Petras are moulding the most exciting things about queer art into a palatable form for the masses, which might lead to more excitement later. Unlike most big hits, the more you hear this one, the more you submit to it. The break from the dance club in between these two is “Perfect,” which combines tired rhymes and a tired trap beat behind two of the most distinctive singers in the business toning down everything that makes their voices special, as Jessie Reyez joins Smith in a breathier, subdued space.

Despite being the track most reminiscent of Smith’s debut, “How to Cry” actually serves as a companion piece to “Unholy.” Whereas the latter almost celebrates its protagonist going out and looking to spice up his boring life, this track focuses on the broken family left behind as the secrets begin to pile up. With little more than an acoustic backdrop, Smith thrives in their wheelhouse as they deliver a great melody with a variety of impressive runs mixed throughout. “Six Shots” is another track where Smith gets to show off their vocals, as things move into a more sensual R&B zone backed by a Bond theme-style string section. Despite the lyrical content taking things even further into an X-rated space, Smith’s more soulful mode here reminds us that behind all of the spectacle of this era is one of the most technically skilled singers working today. The single “Gimme” is the final track before an interlude leads us into the album’s closing moments, a more watered-down dancehall cut apparently written while the singer was actually in Jamaica along with collaborator Reyez – who delivers what is sure to be one of the year’s most grating hooks. Still, it’s fantastic for Smith to give rising reggae star Koffee a spot on the track, as she does what she does best.

The latest single “I’m Not Here To Make Friends” is the album’s final dance party, and the DJ they booked for the event is a pretty good one. Calvin Harris descends onto the track, blending his typical Funk Wav sound with some of the album’s more house-oriented flavours for a massive improvement on Harris’ own album last year – especially because Smith’s vocals are still mixed incredibly well to soar over everything going on. Smith does a little panicking about a looming 30th birthday without finding the one, but this track is a little more celebratory as Smith builds themselves up as a catch. Surprisingly enough, the title track “Gloria” is actually a striking Gregorian chant with some otherworldly vocalizations from Smith in the background, before “Who We Love” closes things out with an inoffensive track that was pretty clearly an Ed Sheeran leftover. It’s nothing to write home about musically, but it’s a nice closer to sum up the album’s themes, as the two artists repeatedly sing “we love who we love.”

While many were initially confused at seeing Sam Smith’s name back at the top of the charts with a completely different sound, their new confident persona and embracing of their identity should hopefully only lead to more interesting music moving forward. I’d love to see them lean even further into the “Unholy” energy.

Favourite Tracks: Lose You, How To Cry, No God, I’m Not Here To Make Friends, Unholy

Least Favourite Track: Perfect

Score: 7/10


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