Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

Sam Smith – Too Good at Goodbyes

But only middling at songs about goodbyes.


Scott Mildenhall: Ever since you’ve been leaving him, he’s been wanting to cry, and much like with Julian Lennon that process seems to be an ongoing one. It raises philosophical questions. How long can a departure be dragged out for? And if someone is not leaving Sam Smith, does he make a sound? (That’s unknowable — when he goes home, he tends to close the door.) Admittedly it’s very easy to make fun of Sam Smith, but that’s not his only skill: he can also produce a serviceable ballad, and often the same one multiple times. And maybe he’s learned. Maybe the familiar “you” in the pre-chorus is a clever generalisation of a string of prior exes. Or maybe, in yet another instance of bad lyricism, it refers to the same one person that he also says he’s “never gonna get too close to.” It’s OK, he’ll survive somewhat better than Emeli Sandé has, and this will sound alright before “Drive” by The Cars on Magic in the rain, but that’s about it.

Maxwell Cavaseno: The easy contempt for Sam Smith, much like a lot of successful British Middle of the Road pop stars, is sometimes a bit too performative for my taste. Yes, Smith being used as an easy out by the BBC in their ‘urban’ programming to ensure a featured artist and industry support isn’t exactly right or fair, but none of it is Smith’s fault as much as it is an industry that recognizes your Sheeran/Smith/Adele types are easy and reliable cash cows in an age of pop stars who are adventurous in a world that, let’s be honest, seems to love to reward musical conservatism no matter who they appear to represent or court. “Too Good at Goodbyes” is guilty of being boringly safe, but little else, because Smith’s vocal, lyric, production are frankly solid through and through and whether or not it sticks with the people who need a tearful outro on the next hospital drama or to suit as the ‘sad comedown’ track on pop radio is kind of irrelevant. Smith and so many others are often found guilty of the weirdest crime: not trying hard enough to seem like they make music for Fans.

Alfred Soto: I haven’t believed a Sam Smith performance since his Disclosure collaborations, or, rather, I’ve believed his masochism so much that he repulses me. The space and warmth of this production — the strings, rhythm guitar strums, taps — helps. So does timing. In 2013 and 2014, Smith was ubiquitous enough on the chart and radio to keep repulsing me. Now he’s a tonic.

Anthony Easton: This is audaciously cynical — completely without feeling, but robotically constructed to be about all the feelings. Extra points for the deeply anonymous church choir. 

Iain Mew: The mismatch between “Every time you…” and “…the less I” still leaves me mentally trying to match up moving parts of tenses in a way that takes me right out of the song. No chorus has been this badly hamstrung by its grammar since The View left off the “be” on the end of “has never been played before and it never will.” The verses would offer some respite if they didn’t sound distractingly like “Sun Comes Up.” It does tone down some of the worst aspects of his previous songs but I’m not left with much to salvage.

Thomas Inskeep: I loathe polite, tasteful music; music is supposed to cause some sort of emotional response, and polite music is too concerned with being inoffensive to do so. And it doesn’t get more polite than Sam Smith, a label head’s “R&B” singer dream come true. This just sits, inert, like a scoop of vanilla ice cream dropped on the pavement. 

Stephen Eisermann: Listening to this song makes me feel like an active participant in misery porn. Sure, Sam sounds flawless and his voice aches with meaning, but at what point does it all become too much. These lyrics come across as someone trying to be sad, versus really hurting, and that comes off not only as fake but slightly offensive. I know “sad songs” are his thing or whatever, but that doesn’t mean he has to try this hard to make songs this sad.

Edward Okulicz: “I’m just protecting my innocence/I’m just protecting my soul”: gross, eww, no, no. Lyrically, Smith is still too much of a child here, not coming up with the words that match the hurt he wants to communicate. And the choir is one studio expense too far for a three-minute pop song. It’s trying too hard in the worst way, but it’s good in spite of that. When I’ve listened to this song and ignored who it’s by, and imagined that the words are as elegant and honest as the voice trying to sing them thinks they are, I enjoy it the same way I enjoy some of Adele’s best songs, or any sad song I listen to as a salve from my own intermittent sadness. If Smith is able to get smarter as a writer, emphasising his voice without being glib, I might yet understand his popularity.

Joshua Copperman: Musically, this is an improvement over his previous solo singles: the issue I had with  those was the lack of pulse (especially with the lugubrious “I’m Not The Only One”), and this actually does have a nice groove. Even the “Stay With Me” choir and strings don’t feel completely recycled from “Stay With Me.” But when a song is this sparse, there’s more focus on the lyrics… and those are what really sink the song. They’re whiny, melodramatic, and insufferable, and performed that way as well, like even Smith’s tired of these sorts of songs. There’s probably a song in being tired of goodbyes instead of being all “woe is me” over it, but as it stands, if you fall for him, he’s not easy to please, he’ll tear you apart, he told you from the start, baby from the start, he’s only gonna break-break-your-break-break-your heart…

Reader average: [4] (2 votes)

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One Response to “Sam Smith – Too Good at Goodbyes”

  1. I will wear being the lowest score here, as a badge of honor.

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