Sam Smith: Gloria album review – well crafted but oh so sensible
Weirdly, as Britain’s most prominent non-binary musician, Sam Smith must take some of the blame for the Brit Awards looking less inclusive than usual this year.
In 2021 the singer, a winner of three Brits before they changed their pronouns, criticised the fact that there was no category for them as long as the ceremony stuck with its British Male and British Female prizes. Last year those shortlists were abandoned in favour of one British Artist of the Year category, won by Adele, but this year all five nominees are men. “There is still a long way to go,” Smith has admitted.
In any case, they have two other nominations at next month’s ceremony, for Song of the Year and Best Pop/R&B Act, as well as a chance to perform, so if they manage to overcome the unstoppable Harry Styles, they’ll have another chance to express their views from the stage.
Unholy, the artist’s first US number one, is surely a strong contender for Song of the Year, and sticks out outrageously in the middle of this fourth album. A masterpiece of oversexualised nonsense, it’s sparse, sweaty and inescapably catchy. Smith’s cry that “Mummy don’t know Daddy’s getting hot/At the body shop/Doing something unholy,” suggests rather more than a middle-aged man being indecisive about shower gel fragrances down at Anita Roddick’s.
Perhaps inevitably, it leaves everything else here feeling rather grey. How to Cry follows straight afterwards, an acoustic ballad that sounds tediously sensible in the aftermath of that ludicrous single. Smith’s voice remains a remarkable instrument, expressing oceans of emotion in any line they care to sing, but it is asked to carry a few songs that feature little else of interest. Who We Love, a big budget Ed Sheeran duet, might be forgotten while it’s still playing, while the tasteful dance beats of Lose You never rise above the generic.
Smith’s career to date has often involved singing about being single and heartbroken. Their breakthrough album was called In the Lonely Hour. Here the words are newly self-confident. “I’m not perfect but I’m worth it,” they sing with Jessie Reyez on Perfect – another ballad. “Gimme gimme what I want,” Reyez repeats on Gimme over crisp Latin beats. “I am learning how to love me more,” Smith sings over a churchy organ on Love Me More. It’s a shame the songs, well crafted as they are, don’t always match the self belief.