A somewhat serious Sam Smith review
I fear I might have across as harsh in my previous post on Sam Smith, so you might be surprised to learn that I have a degree of fondness towards his new album.
I shall start by saying some nice things about young Sam. In the Lonely Hour features some of the best singing I have heard since Adele’s 21. I mention 21, because comparisons are inevitable. But, aside from the fact that both records are about sadness, they couldn’t be more different. First and foremost, 21 is Adele’s breakup album; In the Lonely Hour is about a person who has ‘never physically experienced [love].’ Additionally, 21’s rich and varied production, couldn’t be further from the stripped back production of In the Lonely Hour.
Adele’s influence on In the Lonely Hour is obvious. Some of you might remember that “Rolling in the Deep”, was absolutely dominating the fucking singles chart when 21 finally came out. “Money on My Mind” achieved a good degree of success in the UK Top 40. Both songs suitably stoked the public’s anticipation for the albums, but were markedly different in tone from the rest of the album. The solution? Have them as the opening tracks, and re-introduce the listener to the respective singers.
“Money on My Mind” is very much the “Rolling in the Deep” of In the Lonely Hour, and it was a logical decision to make it track #1. However, just because I approve its placement in the album, doesn’t mean that I have to like it. Adele’s influence on In the Lonely Hour is as apparent as Amy Winehouse was on 21 was.
In the Lonely Hour is an enjoyable album, and it is clear that Smith has a great deal of potential, but the experience is forgettable. I can’t see it being regarded as a defining album of 2014. This album is sad. Really fucking sad. If I had to use three words to describe it, I would choose: rejection, loneliness, heartbreak.
Sam Smith is the primary songwriter for the album and he is clearly very talented. He manages to fully explore his theme over ten songs, without the subject matter becoming repetitive. For instance, the single, “Stay With Me”, is a plea to his one-night stand to stay with him because he is such a lonely dude.
It certainly gives an impression of the mindset of Sam and is one of the more original songs I have heard recently. On “I’ve Told You Now”, Sam gives an account of an argument with his lover. It plays very much to his strengths as a singer and the listener can really feel the emotion in the delivery as the fight goes on. Writing a song that recounts an argument between lovers could have easily turned into something that resembled something from a musical. But Sam’s voice and lyrics ensure that this idea of an argument captured in a song comes across as heartfelt and sincere. I would say that is the best song about an argument since Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week”.
I believe that many of the songs on the album have the potential to be successful singles. I am hoping for a club remix of the track “Like I Can“. It has a catchy chorus, the verses are pretty simple and it all builds up to a big finale with Sam singing very passionately. I can see myself receiving great amounts of enjoyment from a remix, it has all the necessary requirements to fill up the dancefloor. I cannot see this happening with the album version, because the production very much holds the song back. Oh, and did I mention that it sounds a lot like Rolling the Deep? Listen to both songs back to back and it becomes very apparent. It’s all there, the guitar riff, the drums, the big finish; I am surprised that they got away with it.
My biggest complaint with this album is the production, Sam Smith’s next album would definitely benefit from some new people working on the instrumentals. Especially because 70% of the songs follow a clear formula:
This is a tried and tested formula that can be seen in many great songs. I think that Sam Smith should have been savvy enough to realise that his debut album required some more variety. I can’t think of many great albums that relied on one formula for the majority of its songs.
By the time the album’s tenth track, “Lay Me Down”, rolled around I had grown tired of the formula. The song begins with a few lonely notes from a grand piano, from here, it was easy predict what the next three minutes of my life would entail. I must admit that I was surprised that there were strings involved as the song hit its big finish. It was nice to know he can still keep me guessing.
I feel that In the Lonely Hour’s samey production hamstrung its potential. I also know that I haven’t been talking about the individual tracks much in this review, but I feel that many of them weren’t distinct enough to warrant being mentioned.
With regards to my prediction that this album will dominate the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, I can only point to the promising first week sales of 101,000 units and hope it continues. The last album to truly dominate the album charts was 21, so it’s not like this sort of music doesn’t sell.
I enjoyed this album. But I felt the second half dragged on and I was happy when it was over. I would not recommend listening to this album in its entirety, instead I would suggest playing around six songs per sitting. This allows for greater appreciation for Sam Smith’s talents and it also means the production doesn’t become too boring. And for my final Adele-related point…..*AHEM*….. 21 was a sad album, but it wasn’t repetitive.