It’s safe to say that Sam Smith has A LOT to live up to.
That said, his debut album In The Lonely Hour lives up to the hype that has built around him after the success of Disclosure’s ‘Latch’ (the acoustic version of ‘Latch’ included on the deluxe edition certainly deserves a download), Naughty Boy’s ‘La La La’ and Smith’s own recent chart-topper ‘Stay With Me’. It’s not without its problems – there are a few poor tracks included – but the better tracks vastly outshine the duds and while it is by no means a perfect debut, it ensures the hype surrounding Smith was justified.
Smith’s sound is a lot to take in so some persevering is needed upon the first few listens. There is also a sense that Smith is trying too much on certain tracks to show off just how amazing his voice is – the harmonising on ‘Money On My Mind’ and ‘Lay Me Down’ in particular – when it just isn’t needed. We all know by now that he has a gorgeous voice. Indeed, it shines brightly on album standout ‘Stay With Me’ which makes something seedy (a one night stand) into something beautiful and heartfelt. The emotion is there, raw and palpable. Prepare for goosebumps when the choir joins in with him belting the chorus. ‘Life Support’ and ‘Not In That Way’ also showcase his sublime voice perfectly, by having his vocals the centre of attention and the beat as secondary. It’s a clever trick to play – the listener will have come to the album wanting to hear more of Smith’s striking singing so why not make it the most prominent element of the album?
The album dips somewhat in the middle section, with ‘I’m Not The Only One’ and ‘I’ve Told You Now’ becoming instantly forgettable. Equally ‘Good Thing’ becomes somewhat forgettable, but that’s only because it’s placed in the middle of some stunning songs. It’s decent enough in itself, but the tracklisting is perhaps the problem here – had it been listed later in the album it may have been able to shine more.
‘Like I Can’ is a positive song about Smith expressing his love for someone (as is pretty much every track on In The Lonely Hour) with an infectious chorus that sweeps the listener away. There’s a real sense of urgency here, as though he’s desperate to express exactly what it is he’s wanting to tell his lover. ‘Money On My Mind’ is perhaps the most upbeat song on the album and it’s clear why it’s the album opener. Smith wants the listener to know that he isn’t after money – he’s doing it for the love, and love recurs throughout.
In The Lonely Hour perhaps most is at it’s most profound on ‘Leave Your Lover’, a subtle song that perfectly showcases Smith’s silky vocal. It’s gorgeous in its simplicity and the listener really has to pay careful attention to the lyrics in order to experience what it is the singer is trying to express. But its meaning is still ambivalent, and the recent bold video will help to clarify. “Leave your lover, leave him for me,” Smith begs. And he’s begging to another man.
However, Smith’s sexuality is secondary. He’s not made a big deal out of it – it’s out there, it’s in plain sight, but it’s not important. What is important here is the vocal treatment, and Smith really does have it. He commands the listener to pay attention and by the end of the album Smith ensures that his time in the lonely hour is over – everybody will want a piece of Sam Smith now.