The first track on Sam Smith’s fourth album Gloria feels like a mission statement for the music that will follow. ‘Love Me More’ is a beam of gospel-influenced optimism, on which Smith admits that though their relationship with self-esteem is a work in progress, they’re starting to see results.
“Every day I’m trying not to hate myself/but lately it’s not hurting like it did before/maybe I am learning how to love me more,” they sing on the song’s hook.
The subsequent tracks feel like they chart this learning curve across genres ranging from soul to acoustic pop, taking full advantage of the broad appeal of Smith’s full, rich vocal, which remains as disarmingly effortless as ever.
Indeed, because of their huge mainstream popularity — they are, after all, big enough
to have performed a Bond theme — Smith occupies an interesting position. They are clearly deeply influenced by the dance sounds of queer subculture and nightlife, but their listenership is so wide that Gloria also needs big pop moments like the Ed Sheeran collab ‘Who We Love’.
Although these more straightforward tracks — like the R&B-tinged ‘No God’ and the confessional break-up song ‘How to Cry’ — are as vocally skilful as we have come to expect from Smith, the highlights of the record are the tracks which push them into more experimental territory.
‘Unholy’, their left-of-centre, global smash hit featuring Kim Petras, is Gloria’s most light-hearted highlight, as Smith’s sultry vocal provides a slinky juxtaposition to the track’s mechanical, metallic production, clearly indebted to artists like Charli XCX, SOPHIE and A.G. Cook (its huge, number-one success globally hopefully means that we will see more like this from Smith in future).
Elsewhere, ‘Lose You’ is reminiscent of Everything But the Girl’s ‘Missing’ — a perfect space for Smith’s voice to play in — while the skittering ‘Gimme’, featuring Koffee and Jessie Reyez, is a welcome injection of energy.
On the whole, Gloria achieves a good balance of the many facets of what Smith is able to do as a vocalist. As such, as much as the album is an ode to personal self-acceptance with regards to sexuality, gender, love, and the person looking back at Smith in the mirror, it also feels like Smith is coming to a place of creative self- acceptance, too, as they indulge every aspect of their artistry.