It’s a Short ‘Thrill’

Sam Smith’s new album is capable of more

 

By Samantha Neou Multimedia Assistant

After the staggering success of his 2014 album, “In the Lonely Hour,” Sam Smith’s “The Thrill of It All” is a mature sequel that relies too often on the same formula he has used before. This sometimes works both against and for him.

“A good voice can’t carry a whole album on its own.”

The lead single, “Too Good At Goodbyes,” is similar to the hit “Stay With Me.” There is a buildup to a catchy chorus and a choir. But this one is better because it’s a ballad with a message: Sometimes we need to create a hardshell around our hearts in order to protect ourselves from the people who constantly hurt us or will inevitably leave us. Before, the hopeless romantic could only croon about unrequited love and heartache. So this is a welcoming change.

A profile image of Sam Smith with his name and album title on the top half of the picture
Photo courtesy of Paste Magazine

On tracks like “One Last Song” and “Midnight Train,” Smith finally finds the courage to say farewell to the lover he laments about in his first album. There’s anguish there under the fun, upbeat gospel that is “One Last Song,” but it’s also a cause for celebration.

Smith doesn’t steer completely away from the pain of this breakup though, which can be heard in “Burning” and “Baby You Make Me Crazy.” If anything, he handles his sorrow in a healthier way. In the midst of lilting piano notes and a silky falsetto isn’t a mopey dumpee, but someone who is coming to terms with his own worth.

On “No Peace” is a talented but largely unknown artist named YEEBA—the only feature on the album. It’s a solid duet track in which the vocals rise and fall melodically.

The last song, “Pray,” is up there next to the lead single. Timbaland produced the track, which is surprising since he’s been off the radar, but that’s not the most interesting thing about it.

For context, Sam Smith hasn’t had the best experiences with the media.

In January of last year, he tweeted about witnessing racial discrimination for the first time and received criticism for his ignorance due to his privilege.

At the 2016 Oscars, he misspoke when he claimed to be the first openly gay Oscar winner. He blamed the flub on tequila.

Smith isn’t ill-intentioned, but uninformed, which is frightening mainly because of his status. It’s worrisome to think someone of such acclaim is so unaware of the social issues that plague tons of communities around the world.

Admittedly, he sure does know how to be a worldwide pop sensation though.

In “Pray,” Smith sings: “Don't have no degree, I'm somewhat naïve / I've made it this far on my own / But lately, that shit ain't been getting me higher / I lift up my head and the world is on fire.”

He acknowledges his ignorance here. It doesn’t mean he’s suddenly socially and politically aware or that this excuses his ‘unwokeness,’ but it does mean he’s learning.

“The Thrill of It All” is more dynamic vocally, lyrically and instrumentally compared to his first album. The composition of the songs are not as bland, not that there is anything wrong with just enjoying Smith’s soaring, angelic voice. That being said, a good voice can’t carry a whole album on its own. And saying an album is better because the first one wasn’t that good in comparison isn’t the best compliment.

The problem is that it doesn’t have staying power. It’s a nice journey through melancholy and self-love, but remove the fascinating journey that is Smith’s life, and the songs themselves aren’t super memorable. After hearing “Pray,” I realized some songs unrelated to love and breakups would’ve been great. As a whole it works better, but “In the Lonely Hour” had poppier, more commercial singles that would get stuck in your head. This time around, not so much.

If you’re a Sam Smith fan like me, it’s worth checking out at least once. If not, but you're curious or into pop and soul, check out “Too Good at Goodbyes,” “Pray,” “One Last Song” and “No Peace.”