Release Date: Jun 17, 2014
Record label: Capitol
Genre(s): Pop, Adult Contemporary, Pop/Rock, Contemporary R&B, Left-Field Pop
Sam Smith sings soul songs, but not in the usual way. Where most of this genre’s singers shout, he moans. While anger fires many, Smith focuses on hurt. It’s the sound a wound would make, a cry without defense or deflection.. It’s so raw, it isn’t always easy to listen to, yet millions can.
At the risk of sounding completely absurd, U.K. crooner Sam Smith is the musical equivalent of Neapolitan ice cream. Each slab of his debut album, In the Lonely Hour, reveals another layer through which he lays bare his emotional pangs. From the uptempo strawberry swing of "La La La" to the more downtrodden chocolate choruses of "Leave Your Love," Smith's rich vanilla vocals retell stories of unrequited love and longing.But as Smith reminds us on "Good Thing," too much of the same won't be good for long, and midway through, the album gets trapped in a redundant cycle of the "you don't love/want me" variety.
Touted as the “male Adele” – an interesting flip of gender comparisons, there – Cambridgeshire’s man of the hour Sam Smith couldn’t be in a better position to obliterate this summer. Dominating the music press since his inaugural chart jaunts with Disclosure and Naughty Boy and subsequently winning coveted gongs – the BBC Sound Of 2014 and the Critics’ Choice at the BRITs – he’s become the UK’s commercial breakthrough artist du jour, and has festival stints lined up nationwide that last year would’ve been no more than sordid fantasy. But going from zero to hero is no biggie, not for Sam Smith.
In a musical climate devoured by EDM and inundated with Auto-tuned vocalists of the “pour from a can and serve” variety, London-based singer-songwriter Sam Smith is a welcome reminder that natural talent can still flourish in mainstream music. He may not possess a remarkably distinguished name, but there is nothing ordinary about that voice. With an image that conjures up the spirit of a young Boy George, sans cosmetics, his physical presence on stage is as charmingly likable, as his vocal delivery is impressive.
Twenty-two-year-old singer-songwriter Sam Smith has been favorably compared to fellow U.K. tragedian Adele, and with good reason: Both artists trade in the blue-eyed balladry of lovers scorned with strikingly emotional nakedness. But Antony Hegarty would be a more apt parallel: Both Smith and Hegarty identify as LGBT, and both have moonlighted as vocalists for house acts (lending their falsettos to Disclosure's hit “Latch” and Hercules and Love Affair's much-celebrated debut, respectively).
Disclosure's loping dance-pop single "Latch," a number 11 U.K. hit in 2012, introduced Sam Smith, a London-born vocalist with a deeply emotive voice. Smith grew up listening to R&B giants Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross, and Whitney Houston, but his first impression was unique, not merely for the richness of his voice, but its resoundingly expressive yet naturally delivered manner -- on a level most singers can't match with maximum effort.
Where do lonely hearts go? British singer Sam Smith, 21, has written a dissertation on the question with his debut LP. Smith – a gifted blue-eyed-soulster with Barry Gibb's flexible falsetto and Mark Ronson's ear for throwback grooves – got noticed last year for his vocals on house duo Disclosure's slow jam "Latch." With In the Lonely Hour's orchestral flourishes and focus on a single unrealized affair, it seems the baby-faced singer is being positioned as a male Adele. But while the album flirts with a few radiant moments, Smith's endless yearning isn't wrapped in as many irresistible packages.
Has any new pop star in recent memory been so anointed as Sam Smith? As a featured vocalist, he went to No 1 with Naughty Boy's La La La before doing the UK pop double: topping the BBC Sound of 2014 poll and winning the Brits' critics' choice award. Previously, Smith had a stint as the human face of Disclosure, back when the production duo were only a squiggle in the public eye. Their single Latch only made it to No 11 in 2012, but it catapulted all three men into the domestic pop stratosphere.
Could somebody please give Sam Smith a hug? While it’s hardly surprising given the title of the Home Counties soul boy’s debut, ‘In The Lonely Hour’ is one wistful sigh of unrequited love after another. “I’m nothing without you”, he sings in ‘Lay Me Down’, “he’ll never love you like I can” in ‘Not In That Way’, in ‘Leave Your Lover’ it’s “I will give you all of me / just leave your lover / leave him for me” while ‘Good Thing’ even has him pondering a near-fatal mugging outside his love interest’s home in order so that “for a moment I believed you loved me too”. Of course, all this heart-wrenching is delivered beautifully.
Last year, Sam Smith told the Observer he wanted to write an album for those who have never been in love. Having never "physically experienced" it himself, he was keen to give voice to the dejected. While his debut certainly wallows in sadness, he forgets that true misery is more than just rhyming couplets about pain and rain – it's an angry, unstable emotion, too.
Review Summary: This ain't love, it's clear to see. For those of you who don’t listen to the radio on a regular basis (and judging by the abundance of metalheads on Sputnik, it’s likely that most of you don’t), the top 40 has started moving back in the direction of a rose-tinted affirmation that the past had some darn good music. The most obvious (and cringe-worthy) example is MKTO’s “Classic,” bearing the flag of pop’s “return to roots” with the subtlety of a sledgehammer and a proclivity towards slickly-produced arena-fillers worshipping at the feet of Adam Levine circa Hands All Over.
In the Lonely Hour, Sam Smith’s passionate major label debut, isn’t as much about loneliness as it is about distance. In fact, it isn’t about loneliness at all; it’s about the painful, unavoidable desire for suffocating closeness fostered by unrequited love. It wallows not because of isolation but because of a glaring lack of intimacy and empathy.
From the beginning, Sam Smith seemed set for stardom: his debut came at the start of Disclosure's world domination and gave them a show-stopping performance on the lingering mega-hit "Latch". Less than a year later, he appeared on Naughty Boy's "La La La", a summer smash that went to number one in the UK and the top of the charts in the rest of Europe. By the time he released "Money on My Mind" at the beginning of 2014, it was already a done deal.
From the outside, British singer Sam Smith is living a charmed life. The 21-year-old broke through as the impassioned vocalist on house-pop duo Disclosure's single Latch, and landed a major label deal of his own. Cue the whirlwind of incredulous tweets, Instagram posts and high-profile festival appearances. Of course, his private life is much less glamorous.
Sam Smith’s vocal input on Disclosure’s “Latch” is undeniably a large component of what made it an international hit. A stripped, acoustic version of “Latch” on Smith’s Nirvana EP eclipsed the Disclosure fellows, proving Smith can carry the song on his own. A number of the tracks on Nirvana (particularly the extended U.S. version) show up on Smith’s debut full-length, In The Lonely Hour.
Straight away, British crooner Sam Smith concedes, “When I go home, I tend to close the door.” And that’s in the opening track, Money On My Mind, the most ostensibly danceable track on this debut album, and already a hit in Smith’s homeland. Its shifty beat, plasti-synth fingersnaps, and high-pitched chorus singalong hook are fixed into chart aim. But in fact, the chorus is actually, “I have no money on my mind, just love.” Indeed.
If ever there was a conservative choice for the BBC’s Sound of… title it was Sam Smith; a guest on two of the biggest singles of 2013 and established name - barring a complete disaster, he was a banker for success in his own right. And true to form, he’s pushed on with a brace of number one singles, and become the proficient superstar he threatened to be. No surprises there then.
opinion byJEAN-LUC MARSH One thing needs to be made explicitly clear: Sam Smith has the pipes of a god. His falsetto moves with a lithe finesse that belies his mere twenty-two years on this earth. Early collaborations paired his classical sound with deft house beats and contemporary rhythms, as on Disclosure’s “Latch” and Naughty Boy’s “La La La.” Contrary to those cuts, In the Lonely Hour largely eschews such sonic textures, drawing its strength almost exclusively from the sheer brawn of Smith’s voice.
The opening words of Sam Smith’s debut album are “When I signed my deal, I felt pressure”, which is a brave move. By directly addressing the hype that he’s been surrounded by ever since appearing on Disclosure’s 2012 chart hit ‘Latch’ and the high stakes of his major label deal, he shoots for honesty and point-scoring self-awareness by staring straight into the many critical eyes that are focused on his next step. The first time I heard him sing these words, he had been brought out onstage with Taylor Swift for the London leg of her Red tour to belt his anti-money, anti-fame values centre stage at the gigantic O2 arena.
Sam Smith’s voice is lighter than air, with a falsetto as creamy as meringue and just as prone to folding into sharp but soft peaks. It almost disguises how much of a creep he comes across as all over “In the Lonely Hour.” Smith makes ill-advised romantic gestures: overinvesting himself in a one-night stand (“Stay With Me”); pleading for a relationship to be ruined for his own benefit (“Leave Your Lover”); putting words into his intended’s mouth, then holding her accountable for them (“Not in That Way”). It’s even possible to read into “Lay Me Down” that he’s prepared to commit suicide if he can’t spend the night with the girl.