Smith uses the authentic tones of his voice here to perfection and, despite holding back on vocal range, reminds us all why he rose to such success in 2014.
After a two-year break from music – after his chart-topping James Bond single ‘Writing’s On the Wall’ – Sam Smith returns with a stripped-back ballad, and lead song from his untitled second album due for release later this year.
Starting against a piano-backing, Smith exposes his vulnerable vocal with perfection, reminding us all of why he rose to international success in 2014. The song’s construction remains simple throughout, but this is to its advantage. Smith’s use of clicking as the beat develops gives the song a personal, and human, feel that compliments his exposed soul. It’s like he was never gone.
What stands out here, beyond his mesmerising vocal tone, is the heart that Smith’s music represents. The song reflects on an inability to properly feel love because of previous heartbreak (“I’m never gonna let you close to me/ Even though you mean the most to me/ ‘Cause every time I open up, it hurts”). The emotional lyrics connect with his genuine vocals to give the song a real sense of nakedness. This level of personal exposure is what much modern pop music misses: many people use personal lyrics alongside vocals and beats that make the emotional vulnerability null and void. Smith pitches himself perfectly here.
The only disadvantage is that this track serves less of a punch than Smith’s celebrated ‘Stay With Me’. Part of the issue is that he never pushes his vocal range here like he did before. Understandably, they didn’t want the song to feel too produced – or for Smith to become predictable – but, given that this is his first track in two years, he needed to stamp his authority. While it has an authentic defencelessness that is both endearing and impressive, it raises its hand for recognition rather than thumping its fist on the table and declaring its presence. Put another way, in 2014 Smith saw himself going head-to-head with Ed Sheeran for copious awards. If this unfolds again, Sheeran’s latest would not face such tough competition.
Still, the song ticks all the right commercial and critical boxes, and Smith certainly means business. If he is to become the male Adele and make us all reach for the tissues, only time – and hopefully a more adventurous vocal range – will tell.
‘Too Good at Goodbyes’ is out now via Universal