British crooner Sam Smith finally released his debut album, “In the Lonely Hour”, on May 26 with Capitol Records. After a year prepping for his debut with his critically acclaimed EP “Nirvana” and features on hit songs with Disclosure and Naughty Boy on top of touring even before his album was released, Smith has gained wide recognition not just in his home country but in the U.S. as well. With all these accolades and even TV exposure – on Saturday Night Live no less – it’s no wonder that “In the Lonely Hour” became one of the most anticipated albums of 2014.
The biggest reason for his steadily growing exposure is most likely his powerful, heartbreaking voice. Smith can sing and when he does, everyone will stop and listen and feel a bit more breathless than before. He doesn’t grasp for notes, he easily caresses them and glides through them with incredible passion and dedication. He’s fearless in his vocals, daring to soar to the highest notes and play with dynamics.
Of course with this sort of voice, he especially shines in the genre of “tear-inducing, earth shattering unrequited love music” which is basically the premise for “In the Lonely Hour”. Most of the songs on the album are mid to slow tempo appeals to a lover that will never return Smith’s feelings. The instrumentals also range from isolating guitar lines to grand orchestral movements, all adding to the sweeping loneliness that Smith reinforces with his moving vocals. But other than Smith’s phenomenal voice, there isn’t anything here that could really separate it from other sorrowful, self-pitying albums. The lyrics aren’t particularly arresting; sometimes they almost seem surface-level and at other times, they’re nearly unhealthy in their obsession over this unreturned feeling. It’s not an album you should listen to in large doses unless you want to be pulled down into the abyss of self-loathing and hopelessness.
If this album was put on a heart monitor, it would be a relatively even line with spikes in the beginning for “Money on My Mind” and “Stay with Me” and at the end for “Lay Me Down”, which all happen to be singles. The middle of the album is forgettable although “Like I Can” and “Life Support” attempt to change the pacing. Overall, it’s a solid and safe debut; the only experimentation Smith tries is with his own voice. In a way, it’s somewhat unsatisfying because with such vocal talent, he has a chance to explore different kinds of instrumentation and lyrics. Even if he’s making his words accessible to a wider audience, perhaps something more personal, more specific would’ve given more life to his songs. It’s a concrete start and it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here. “In the Lonely Hour” is available now in the UK and will be released in the US on June 17.