How do you follow a success like that of Sam Smith’s debut album, In The Lonely Hour? No doubt it gave the singer-songwriter the odd pause for thought (if not an occasional sleepless night), but what emerged, on 8 September 2017, was the confident masterstroke that is ‘Too Good At Goodbyes’.
The lead track from their second studio album, The Thrill Of It All, ‘Too Good At Goodbyes’ was a bold move into all-out orchestral pop, and the first fruits of a fresh partnership with hitmakers Stargate, who had worked on classics like Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’.
“It’s about getting good at being dumped”
Composed with longtime collaborator Jimmy Napes, the song returned to the emotional themes that resonated so successfully on Smith’s debut album, while hinting at the inevitable changes that come from spending a couple of years at the top.
If the Sam Smith of In The Lonely Hour was a person frustrated by the elusive nature of romance, here was someone with an increasing strength and self-confidence. Sure, the romances since then hadn’t all been perfect, but they’d found a formula for getting over them. “Think about what the relationship was… the positives and the negatives… and sit and live with it a bit,” was their advice to those eager to understand what ‘Too Good At Goodbyes’ was about.
“The song is about a relationship I was in and it’s basically about getting good at being dumped,” they said at the time. “It’s been a long while since I have put any music out and I feel this first single sets the tone of what is to come.”
It had, indeed, been a while since Sam Smith had shattered records, and likely their own modest expectation, with the juggernaut that was In The Lonely Hour – three years, to be precise, and a lifetime ago in the turbo-charged pop market.
A confident step forward
The delay, however, had done nothing to damage their appeal. Critical reaction to the single was overwhelmingly positive and the track became their sixth UK chart-topper, while hitting No.4 in the US. It was just the sort of launch The Thrill Of It All needed, setting the album up to shift over four million copies worldwide to date.
By stripping back ‘Too Good At Goodbyes’’ gorgeous melody almost to its a cappella roots and then building it into a lush, gospel-flooded production, Smith proved they knew what a great lift sounded like, and that they could give the reigning empress of the power ballad, Adele, a run for her money. Their formula had moved on just enough to make the song sound like a confident step forward on a musical path they were rapidly defining as their own.
‘Too Good At Goodbyes’’ poignant video, filmed in Newcastle, England, supported the track’s universal themes, with the singer playing a secondary role to many visual definitions of love and the struggles we all have with it. Though a deeply personal Sam Smith statement, it nevertheless proved they could help their millions of fans to share in their emotions.