ADRIAN THRILLS: Smooth operator Sam's inner diva breaks free

ADRIAN THRILLS: Smooth operator Sam’s inner diva breaks free

SAM SMITH: Gloria (Capitol) 

Rating: ***

Verdict: Adventurous but patchy return 

Despite having one of the most striking voices in British pop, Sam Smith has generally played it safe in the studio. 

The Cambridgeshire singer’s three albums have been smooth and introspective, dominated by tales of unrequited love. They’ve sold by the bucket-load, but haven’t taken too many risks. 

Fourth effort Gloria — described as ‘my diva album’ — might just change perceptions. It’s not exactly a leap into the unknown, with those big torch songs still featuring, but it has a freshness that sees Smith branching into disco, dancehall reggae and, most daringly, a choir-sung hymn. 

The singer, who came out as non-binary in 2019 and uses gender-neutral pronouns, is now augmenting the lovesick ballads of old with upbeat material about self-respect and empowerment. 

Sam Smith performing on stage at Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball 2022 Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball with Barclaycard, Show, The O2 Arena, London, UK – 10 Dec 2022

The singer, who came out as non-binary in 2019 and uses gender-neutral pronouns, is now augmenting the lovesick ballads of old with upbeat material about self-respect and empowerment

It’s a move that was hinted at, but not quite delivered, on 2020’s Love Goes. Gloria is hit and miss, but it brings out the best in a supple voice that Beyonce once likened to the texture of butter. 

There are plenty of helping hands, too. Super-producers Stargate, Max Martin and Calvin Harris are all on board, alongside usual collaborator Jimmy Napes, and there are co-writes with Swedish-Iranian artist Ilya Salmanzadeh plus duets with Ed Sheeran, Jessie Reyez, Kim Petras and reggae artist Koffee. 

It’s a large supporting cast, but Smith’s voice holds its own, enriching some decent songs with quavering flourishes. Love Me More is laid-back, but at least puts a positive spin on the singer’s self-esteem issues (‘Lately it’s not hurting like it did before’). Perfect, a duet with Reyez, is subdued and understated. 

The most interesting moments come when those vocals are pushed to their limit. Unholy, a duet with Petras, is a chant crafted around an Arabic scale that gave Smith an eighth UK No 1 and topped the U.S. chart. 

TRACK OF THE WEEK: You Only Love Me, by Rita Ora

Taking time off from ITV’s The Masked Singer, Ora returns to her own music with a mellow dance track that builds to a crescendo. ‘You only love me when the whisky is pouring,’ she sings on the first taster for her third album

Gimme, with Reyez and Jamaican star Koffee, is a good-time track on the cusp of reggae and R&B. The album’s best ballad is Who We Love. A duet with Sheeran, it’s a song about tolerance — a plea echoed on Hurting Interlude, built around excerpts from a news report of New York’s first Pride celebration in 1970. 

Smith, whose big break came as a guest with electronic duo Disclosure, also goes back to the disco on two retro-flavoured dance tunes. Lose You, an upbeat break-up song, echoes George Michael. Helmed by Calvin Harris, I’m Not Here To Make Friends is a floor- filling banger. 

There’s also, on the title track, that unexpected venture into choral music. Made with a choir from the Saffron Walden church Smith attended as a child, it’s a bold move.

 Coldplay’s When I Need A Friend, from 2019, is the only track to explore similar terrain recently. All of which reiterates a feeling that the singer, 30, is best when trying something different. 

’30 almost got me and I’m so over love songs,’ runs I’m Not Here To Make Friends. It certainly makes Smith a more enterprising performer. 

AVA MAX: Diamonds & Dancefloors (Atlantic) 

Rating: ****

Verdict: Shining pop gems 

Ballads, or anything straying too close to a middling tempo, are anathema to America’s latest song and dance sensation. 

Diamonds & Dancefloors, the second album from Ava Max, a mini-Madonna born 28 years ago in Milwaukee, is single-minded in its pursuit of pulsating rhythms, TikTok-ready hooks and attention-grabbing choruses. 

Ava Max performs onstage at iHeartRadio Y100s Jingle Ball 2022 Presented by Capital One at FLA Live Arena on December 18, 2022 in Sunrise, Florida

Max, whose parents moved from Albania in the 1990s, has already secured one big British hit in Sweet But Psycho, a catchy anthem (and workout favourite) that topped the singles chart in 2019. She’d probably be a bigger star over here had her breakthrough not been interrupted by the pandemic. 

She’s now making up for lost time. Co-written with her producer Cirkut, whose pedigree includes Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball, Diamonds & Dancefloors is being billed as a heartbreak album, but it’s not one that digs too deep lyrically. Its strength lies in Max’s forceful voice — a soprano that’s capable of hitting deeper notes — and songs that are simply a lot of fun. 

There are nods to Lady Gaga and, on Million Dollar Baby, a melody lifted (with the right credits) from LeAnn Rimes’ Can’t Fight The Moonlight. Ghost likens a fading love affair to a supernatural event, and Weapons touches, quirkily, on the chemical composition of the human body: ‘We’re nothing but some stardust and molecules.’

Beneath the razzmatazz, there are occasional hints of something darker. ‘I keep a pistol under my pillow,’ sings Max on Cold As Ice. Get Outta My Heart samples the score from psychological thriller Twisted Nerve. The title track depicts a woman dancing alone in lockdown — something that will no longer be a problem for Ava. 

Ava Max performs onstage during iHeartRadio 93.3 FLZ’s Jingle Ball 2022

SG LEWIS: AudioLust & HigherLove (PMR) 

Rating: ***

Verdict: DJ moves centre stage 

‘I exist in the space between DJ and artist,’ says SG Lewis. 

Having worked on Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia and Elton John’s Lockdown Sessions, Lewis is now following former DJs Calvin Harris and Mark Ronson in becoming a performer in his own right. 

His second album reiterates his credentials. Infatuation is all elegant grooves and euphoric lyrics, and Swedish diva Tove Lo guests on synth number Call On Me.

Dance tracks are his focus, but Lewis also explores Hall & Oates-style pop on Lifetime. He’s a star in the making. 

SG Lewis performs at Wildlands Festival 2022 on December 30, 2022 in Perth, Australia

Musical guest SG Lewis performs on Wednesday, January 18, 2023, on The Tonight Show 

  • Sam Smith starts a tour on April 12 at Utilita Arena, Sheffield ( SG Lewis starts his tour on March 28 at Stylus, Leeds ( 

Source: Read Full Article