In their emotionally vulnerable new album, Sam Smith dives into their queer identity and experiences.
Sam Smith is Vulnerable but Varied on Newest Album ‘Gloria’
In Sam Smith’s newest album, the singer is emotionally vulnerable and unabashedly queer. But haphazard features from heterosexual artists and an eclectic-sounding — to put it politely — popular single bring down the overall positive aspects of the album. “Gloria” was released on Jan. 27.
The album opens with the R&B-styled track “Love Me More,” which is a raw journey through Smith’s personal history of low self-esteem and self-doubt.
In an interview with Apple Music, the singer said the song takes inspiration from the music of Whitney Houston, which comes through in the production of the song.
The second track, “No God,” has a similar R&B feel but features accompaniment from a background chorus that its predecessor lacked. An incredibly talented vocalist, Smith proves they aren’t afraid to let the music fade to allow their voice to create the sole melody on the song. Throughout “Gloria,” Smith’s voice is the star of the show — the production often acts like a spotlight, allowing Smith’s vocals to shine completely free of any distractions.
While Smith’s vocal talent is constantly underscored by uncomplicated production, it often falters in terms of lyrical prose throughout the album. Smith tends to tell, not show, and misses out on what could be poignant pieces about the queer experience.
Through this lack of metaphor or even slightly flowery language, Smith almost reduces what it’s like to be queer to an overly sexual and one-dimensional portrayal of partying in their early 30s. While artwork concerning what it means to be queer never has to be emotionally deep, Smith tries to make that kind of statement through tired clichés and uninspired songwriting that generally act against their best intentions.
“Unholy” featuring Kim Petras was an immediate hit on TikTok for all the wrong reasons and is a sharp thorn in the side of the album as a whole. It’s unfortunately catchy, grating on the mind and an all-around horrific listen.
The song is sonically tacky and lyrically incompetent, relying on sharp pulses of the bassline and simplistic rhyming schemes to deliver a poor attempt at appealing to the edgier audiences of artists like Charli XCX and Hannah Diamond. It went viral partially because of the shock factor it provided for Christian audiences on TikTok, who were quick to call the song demonic upon its release.
The song is so out of Smith’s style that it’s jarring to listen to in the context of the whole album. No other song sounds like it, for a good reason. Their producers are undoubtedly talented people, but to completely miss the mark like this is a feat in itself.
Following in the footsteps of someone else is something Smith does incredibly well throughout the album. However, in the process, Smith forfeits a uniquely individual sound and style. Given their prolific discography, one could say Smith’s musical style has already been established. “Gloria” is proof that maybe they haven’t.
As the album’s seventh track, “How To Cry” is a far more tolerable and scathing song about a person’s inability to connect emotionally or atone for their actions over the strums of a lone acoustic guitar.
R&B singer Jessie Reyez is a big presence on the album and in Smith’s songwriting process, featured on “Perfect,” “I’m Not Here To Make Friends” and “Gimme” alongside reggae artist Koffee.
Koffee, Reyez and Smith take turns bouncing around on the breezy and boozy beat, swapping between heavy-handed sexual references and saying “gimme” as often as they can.
In a stretch of potential summer hits, Smith and long-time collaborator Calvin Harris take it to the West Coast with “I’m Not Here To Make Friends.” The beat is dripping in warm, southern California sunshine. Harris’ style takes hold of the track, making the song’s production serve as a third, distinct voice.
Title track “Gloria” is sung almost entirely in the style of a Catholic choir, reflecting Smith’s experiences of alienation as a queer youth in a Catholic high school, according to their interview with Apple Music. However, the song is also about the pride Smith feels in their queer experience and the lyrics reflect that.
The album sours slightly at the end closing out with “Who We Love” featuring and written by Ed Sheeran.
“Who We Love” lacks the depth of experience that defines the rest of the album and starts to sound like a Pride Month Toyota commercial on the third listen. The song itself is fine but ultimately blends into the background of other songs in the album whose sound and style are more interesting.
For an album all about the joy and nuances of queer identity, written primarily from Smith’s own experiences, it feels strange to end the album with a song that boils those nuances down to something palatable and understandable by straight audiences.
An album with collaborations ranging from RuPaul to Sheeran is thematically strange, sparking a dissonance in the messaging of Smith’s queer experience.
“Gloria,” along with the rest of Smith’s discography, is available on all major streaming platforms.
Featured image courtesy of Capitol Records