Sam Smith’s “In the Lonely Hour” is sure to have this London crooner on everyone’s mind or at the very least everyone’s iPhone.
We may have no idea what London is feeding their emerging artists, but soul music and talent is alive and well in the UK and we are forever indebted to England for sending artists like Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Ed Sheeran across the pond. Sam Smith is London’s latest offering and his debut project “In the Lonely Hour” breathes new life into the soul music genre. Sam’s phenomenal voice, irresistible falsetto, and writing gift makes for a unique blend of soul and pop that has echoes of gospel influence. It is sure to have a new generation of music listeners swaying, dancing, and singing. The 2014 Brit Awards “Critics Choice” winner does more than impress in his debut, but makes a statement. With production and co-writing help from Fraser T Smith (a Grammy-award winning producer and songwriter for artist like Cee-Lo, Adele, and Britney Spears), Sam Smith has created a project that is evocative and memorable.
The album begins with his high-powered single “Money On My Mind”, which works as an intro to not only his album, but also his approach to music. The chorus professes that he is in the industry for the love. This is easy enough to glean, as love is the primary focus of the album. He immediately follows this energetic up-tempo song with two ballads. The first being “Good Thing”, where the Sam showcases the sultry vocals that fans across the world have fallen in love with all over. The second is his smash single “Stay With Me”, where Sam Smith takes his listeners to church by pleading his lover to stay with him. And honestly, after a song like that, it’s hard to believe any listener would not stay listening to the rest of the album.
Next comes “Leave Your Lover”, which is not much of a change of pace, but as Sam flirts with the higher regions of his register we are completely ready to leave, even our favorite artist, to stick with Sam Smith’s unique voice and enticing lyrics. “I’m Not the Only One” submerges listeners into a place of insecurity as Sam admits that though his lover says she loves him, he knows that he is not the only one and it torments him.
“I’ve Told You Know” might not be a single (yet), but it is sure to become an album favorite as Sam shows of his writing ability, weaving a story of a reluctant lover questioning his slowness to give his all to a person who has proved their love to him.
“Like I Can” speeds up the flow of the album. Like in previous songs, it seems that Sam has a bit of competition for the love that he is pursuing. But, he makes it absolutely clear that the other man is no match for him, as he loves not only her, but also her imperfections. The song says, “We both have demons, that we can’t stand. I love your demons, like devils can”.
The album breathes on as Sam uses his whispery falsetto to tell the one he loves that they are his “Life Support”. Sam’s ability to be vulnerable and let fans into the depths of his yearning and desires is what makes the album work and is one of his greatest strengths.
As we near the end of the album, listeners feel perpetually stuck “In the Lonely Hour” as things don’t seem to be going well for our hero and his quest for love. “Not In That Way” is a slow guitar ballad that perfectly depicts the conflicting feelings we feel when we fall in love with a person who doesn’t feel the same way. The fact that Sam’s voice is so evocative makes this let down all the more heartbreaking.
Finally, we come to “Lay Me Down”, which easily becomes one of, if not, the favorite song on the album. The nakedness of the piano in the beginning of the song allows Sam’s voice to shine through the darkness and capture the hearts of listeners one final time. This song is the perfect way to end his album as it has so many transitions; it begins as a slow ballad, brings us to a militant bridge where Sam begs to be laid down next to his lover, and ends the exact way the song started, with the bare chords of the piano and a few sustained orchestra strains.
There is no doubt after hearing the album that Sam Smith is a force to be reckoned with and the title gives listeners a pretty good idea of what to expect; an approximately 33 minute of exploration of love and the potential sadness it can bring. While a strong project in many ways, it seems safe. Sam sticks to his guns by producing a ballad heavy album, which isn’t necessarily a bad choice as it is where he shines the most. But, his exploration of love lacks the heat and rawness that the subject demands. He flirts with this aspect of love it on songs like “I’ve Told You Know”, but seems to leave it for the rest of the album. Sam’s writing style and use of rhyming couplets reminds us of another London superstar, Ed Sheeran, while the soul and gospel influence harkens back to an Amy Winehouse or Emeli Sandé. That being said, the album still emerges as one of the strongest in the genre for the year and will leave fans hungrily waiting for a sophomore project. This is certainly just the beginning for this crooning Londoner and it would behoove all to give his work a listen at this early stage in his career.
If the regular version of “In the Lonely Hour” isn’t enough to satisfy your pallet for Sam’s captivating melodies, the deluxe version includes five more songs for your listening pleasure; “Restart”, “Latch (Acoustic)”, the Naughty Boy hit “La La La” (feat. Sam Smith), “Reminds Me of You”, and “Made It To Me”.