Sam Smith ‘Gloria’ Album Review: Where’s the Thrill?
In the age of Spotify, you don’t often have to listen to music you don’t want to hear. Even so, I have vivid memories of trying and failing to avoid Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ chart-topping collaboration “Unholy” last October when it flooded my Instagram feed.
It’s special during the weekends of BravoCon, when every True Housewife and Bravolebrity (aka about 40 percent of the people I follow) were posting Stories that showed them posing in a photo booth, with “Unholy” playing on it. Whenever a song starts playing from the app, I immediately scroll down. Everything about it is a bit too intense and, conversely, not serious. The opening sentence, “Mom didn’t know Dad was heating up,” felt unbearably cheesy to me. And I hate the way Smith’s voice rings out in that spooky choir. Suffice to say, this is the first time in a while that I think I absolutely hate a song instead of just feeling unimpressed.
Emphasis on “thinking.”
On Smith’s fourth studio album, Gloria, released on Friday, “Unholy” comes at a point on the watchlist when you’ve been waiting for something a little more decadent. Albums certainly aren’t boring; The first half offers some solid, emotional tunes, but they don’t produce the tone you’d expect after listening to “Unholy” for months on end. So when the fifth track, “Perfect,” featuring Jessie Reyez, culminated in a string combination before boldly moving on to “Unholy,” I experienced a sense of excitement that I never anticipated. The intensity of the track finally makes sense in my ears. It no longer feels like a Saturday Night Live parody or a novel song.
This feeling speaks to the near-perfect placement of each track and intermingles Gloria. The selection of the album was as elaborate as its production, led by Jimmy Napes, Smith’s frequent collaborator. Unfortunately, this is both a blessing and a curse; The album’s 33-minute length is so short, passing in such an ephemeral way that it runs the risk of becoming unmemorable.
To Smith’s credit, Gloria takes the listener on a journey with a clear beginning, middle, and end. However, the album, which repeatedly alludes to an era of freedom and corruption, fails to reach any extraordinary heights. For a project ostensibly about “emotional, sexual and spiritual liberation,” as Smith put it, Gloria feels strangely limited and conservative.
Gloria opens with “Love Me More,” updating Smith’s feelings about their body image and self-esteem. At first, the song sounded like one of Lizzo or Meghan Trainor’s body-positive #yasqueen anthems. But there is less certainty and confidence in playing here; Smith admits they’re still having a hard time singing on the organ, “Every day I try not to hate myself / But lately, it just doesn’t hurt like it used to.” It’s refreshingly honest, but the song still isn’t rough enough to push the needle.
Lineage and acceptance are really big themes in these songs, and fortunately Smith has refrained from exploring them in a way that is too clichéd. The 30-year-old musician is living in the moment and collecting mistakes rather than presenting a new and improved version of themselves. That way, R&B-leaning tracks like “Perfect” and “Six Shots” revel in the joy of imperfection and the thrill of romantic mess. Elsewhere, such as the Koffee-supported dancehall tune “Gimme,” Smith is rambunctious, demanding sexual attention.
“I’m Not Here To Make Friends,” a collaboration with Calvin Harris and Jessie Reyez (whose latter cryptically appears three times on the album), is a standout dance track that begins with the catchphrase. “if you can’t love” by RuPaul. yourself…” soundbite. That kind of lyrical satire often invites ridicule (and it may be in places I haven’t seen on the internet), but the song immediately dismisses the queen’s narcissistic message in a rather humorous way. humorous, as Smith proclaims his desperate plea for romance on a hilarious disco beat.
Unfortunately, that was the last fun Smith had before the album expired. The title track “Gloria” is a frank activism hymn and not just a loose interpretation of the Latin word for “glory”. Above Twitter Last November, Smith described Gloria as a “soul” and a “feeling” and sang it directly in the song. However, the idea behind it and Smith’s commitment to liturgical music doesn’t really justify its existence on the album, making it feel completely out of place.
Then there’s the closing track, “Who We Love,” which resonates with Dua Lipa’s feminist chant “Boys Will Be Boys” at the end of her other brilliant sophomore album. Future nostalgia. Both tracks are boring, the usual ballads re-use abusive jargon, and “Who We Love” commits serious crimes in the presence of Ed Sheeran, Smith’s British teammate, who had a slightly stony tenor that didn’t quite match Smith’s seductive croon vocals.
Overall, Gloria resist the greatness and innovation that it constantly suggests; most music from Smith’s first years like an act of blue-eyed soul really feels more daring than the brief thrill this album gives. At the end of these 13 tracks and 33 minutes, you’ll feel happy for Smith in this new era of their self-proclaimed “liberation,” but wish they had expanded on these musical ideas even further. But it was a nice first draft.