Sam Smith: The Thrill of It All
By Zoe Huettl
Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour was the sort of album you should have listened to with a glass of wine in one hand and an album full of your ex’s photos to deface in the other. It was best if you were already a little tipsy. Clichés and almost mopey dramaticism made the album a heartbreak playlist standard that couldn’t really hold its own anywhere else. In his sophomore effort, the influences of classic soul and gospel add maturity and nuance to Smith’s sound, both of which were majorly lacking with In the Lonely Hour. While he does use his classic love-and-loss formula, The Thrill of It All also turns to faith, the contemporary world, and the brighter corners of his relationships to craft a more well-rounded record than his debut.
The sheer amount of gospel choir backup alone is enough to show that Smith is heading in a new, more mature direction, drawing substantially from 60’s style soul. His vocal style finds a home in Gladys Knight-esque bops and jams (but to be clear, his “Midnight Train” is no “Midnight Train to Georgia”). “One Last Song,” “Say It First,” and “Baby You Make Me Crazy” seem to be the best products of his new formula, but sub-par lyrics leave other attempts lacking. “Nothing Left for You,” a key example, would benefit from more subtle, artistic lyrics—the melodrama edges on self-parody. Still, he introduces an interesting collab with YEBBA (“No Peace”) and a new-and-improved take on his typical love songs with (“Say It First”).
Overall, Smith has made some serious leaps in maturity, but there are a few places on this record that could have gone further. “Pray,” Smith’s steamy slow jam meets existential crisis, could be a reflection on desperation in the current political climate, but the underdeveloped chorus and stale clichés keep it from truly resonating. “HIM” has a similar issue: though Smith takes an interesting look at sexuality and religion, he never fully develops his view of the conflict, nor does he extract much broad meaning from what seems to be a very personal struggle. While The Thrill of It All has unrealized potential, it still shows Smith’s growing maturity as an artist and his ability to modernize an iconic style.