There have been many albums like this one. In the grey moment at the end of "I'm Not The Only One," I heard a harmony stretch over Smith's chorus vocal, and in that moment of listening I suddenly was in the backseat of my mother's car, being driven home and the radio was playing.
Sam Smith is a voice. He means to be aesthetically appreciated, and he aims for the sublime. His music swells, round and generous, and that extends to what it delivers emotionally. In The Lonely Hour
is, for the most part, a collection of songs that remain lyrically stationary. As much of the album deals with the same general themes (longing, miscommunication and melancholy), In The Lonely Hour
is mostly a sonic exploration of one place. Smith seeks to discover how many different sweet sounds can be wrung from the same rind, and the result is an album that may not be the most philiosophically thrilling, but is lovely to listen to, sounding soaked through with honey, sweet and slow-moving.
The only song on In The Lonely Hour
that enjoys any kind of narrative progression is the second track, "Good Thing," but even there the song's emotional endpoint is made clear by the end of the first verse. This is not an album that progresses, but one that lingers. Most often, the contours of where a song will go are drawn in the first words. There is no expectation of treachery, thrilling or otherwise. In their first words, the outlines are made, and the songs spends the rest of it's time colouring them in, music filling words.
Smith spends most of the album finding ways to sing the words he can't say, illustrating ways he has failed to tell a lover how he feels, and the result is an entire album that feels like a single unspoken word. It's easy to write an album like this one that goes through pop's tropes without adding anything to them — as uninspired and pleasant. It's fair to say that on this album Smith never really finds a sound that is distinctly his.
However, Smith breathes new life into cliches. Much of the album does read like a showcase for Smith's talents, but this never feels technical or bloodless. Is it true that if his singing wasn't so impressive this album might be forgettable? Maybe, but sing Smith does, and he sells these songs. Smith's instincts as a writer and a vocalist are what are on display: check out how his trills and runs call to mind the satisfyingly symmetrical sounds of '90s radio hits.
With regards to satisfaction, the sound of In The Lonely Hour
is lovely. Smith's voice is flawless, sounding full to its edges: his falsetto is cherubic as he lets breath in and out of his lines like a master. All the instrumentation is bassy in a cushiony sort of way that allows the sounds to bloom. It might sound a little inert at times, but mostly it just feels luxurious.
Instead of sounding like a cynical raid of the easiest sounds pop has to offer, In the Lonely Hour
instead sounds as though Smith, youthful and wide-eyed, is finding these sounds for the first time. The rich flavor of his musical instincts (peep the melodic descent at the end of "I'm Not The Only One") make it easy to forget that you've more or less heard these songs before.
In moments like when Smith cries, "maybe I am just not enough!" on album standout "I'm Not The Only One," he enters the realm of cliche and bursts right out the other side, into something truly special, something beyond time that reminds you why sounds like this have endured.
I have heard Sam Smith conquer the past, and I'm excited to see what he has in store for the future.
Sam Smith's In The Lonely Hour
is due out June 17th on Capitol Records. Pre-order your copy here
, and watch his "Stay With Me" music video below.