Sam Smith’s Gloria review: The balladeer of love and loss hits the dance floor

The singer’s fourth album picks up the speed and creates history, but it falls short of becoming a fun-filled stomper.

Sam Smith, a singer, committed an error in 2016 that caused a significant global scandal. Before dedicating the award to “the LBGT people throughout the world,” Smith made the claim that the triumph was a first for an openly homosexual creative when he accepted an Oscar for the Bond theme song from the previous year, Writing’s on the Wall. Smith made a factual error because there had already been announced winners, and the singer spent some time on Twitter apologizing.

In 2023, two sample-filled parenthesis on the artist’s fourth album, Gloria, attest to Smith having done their research on the history of LGBTQIA+ people. One, Hurting Interlude, describes the misery of losing a loved one while also being unable to express your sadness to others. The 1970 New York Gay Pride March is when the TV news interview was taken from.

Another, Dorothy’s Interlude, condenses semi-subtle snippets of important gay culture moments, including Judy Garland singing Over the Rainbow, Divine in John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, a speech by activist Sylvia Rivera from 1973, and a brief segment of the ballroom culture documentary Paris Is Burning from 1991. Smith, who has identified as non-binary since 2019, appears to have caught up and is prepared for an increase in presentational visibility, according to the message. On a recent episode of Saturday Night Live, Smith appeared wearing a fluffy pink sculptural gown that unzipped to reveal trans singer Kim Petras beneath Smith’s skirts. Petras appears on Unholy, their huge single from the tail end of last year.

Watch Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ Unholy music video.

Gloria seems to be the product of a protracted pupation, despite the fact that In the Lonely Hour (2014) claimed to be a cry of sorrow at unrequited love for a guy at the time. Smith sings in the song “Love Me More” about her past issues with self-worth and, more significantly, how she feels right now. However, it hasn’t hurt as much lately, they sing. A first for an out non-binary musician and a trans singer, Smith and Petras have created history with Unholy by topping the US singles chart.

The song calls out a man who is having an affair with his wife at “the body shop.” Its open discussion of sexuality and outrageous music video appear to have learned from both LGBTQIA+ history and Lil Nas X’s brazenly successful commercial juggernauting.

However, Ed Sheeran suddenly appears on Who We Love and presents a superfluous midtempo wet blanket.

Additionally, Unholy may have received more than 1.7 billion streams and a Grammy nomination precisely because Smith’s filthy maximalism is such a departure from his previous work. Smith’s voice is a flexible, expressive instrument that can soar, ache, and husk simultaneously – occasionally. But the success of their career to date has been largely down to the timeless attraction of tired balladry, classicist fare whose polite musical manners won’t make anybody convulse.
Promises, which Smith co-signed with Calvin Harris five years ago, may have been the turning moment. However, Gloria aims to shake Smith out of their funk and reimagine them as a dancefloor competitor, not a homebody mourning from lost love but one pounding out the feelgood bpms instead.

Additionally, the record is mostly convincing. Smith is a natural choice for disco pop; their search for sexual fulfillment rather than anything more is evident in the seductive, shouty I’m Not Here to Make Friends. The cheeky, tropical pop-influenced song Gimme, with longing Smith vocals and nasty-girl support from Canadian singer Jessie Reyez and dancehall MC Koffee, is even more up front. Although the tempo is slower, Six Shots is another digital era come-hither that owes much more to D’Angelo’s sexified soul than it does to the music on Radio 2.

Then frustration sets in. Why not go all out and create Sam Smith’s version of Renaissance, BeyoncĂ©’s all-night bash of 2022? Did no one launch an intervention after noticing a song named How to Cry on the track listing? The a cappella title tune, albeit it looks backwards rather than ahead, is more interesting. Gloria is the name of an energy that Smith claims has been liberated inside himself. This energy may be feminine or of a natural nature. Smith sings a heartfelt solo over the choir’s upper and lower voices in the hymn, which is a song of praise. It was recorded at the Saffron Walden church in Essex, where Smith attended as a youngster.

However, Ed Sheeran suddenly appears on Who We Love, bringing with him the pointless gift of a midtempo wet blanket. Sheeran is no stranger to raunchy dance pop; he even handed Smith a 6ft 2in marble statue of his penis. Although Smith sings about being able to love whomever they choose, you’d think Sheeran would have realized that a slinkier song could have been more appropriate for an album that is all about having fun and letting go of the past.

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