Sam Smith, The Thrill of it All | Album Review
Breakout British pop-soul artist Sam Smith makes a solid comeback with his highly-anticipated sophomore album, ‘The Thrill of it All.’
After a three-year hiatus, breakout British pop-soul artist Sam Smith returns. Smith is blessed with the voice of an angel. While characterizing him as “the male Adele” is an overstatement, honestly, it’s not that far-fetched. Living up to the excellence of his Grammy-winning debut album, In the Lonely Hour is a tough task. However, Smith does well for himself throughout the course of The Thrill of it All.
Initially, Smith is accompanied by piano on opener and promo single, “Too Good at Goodbyes.” One lonely chord precedes the beginning of Smith’s vocal performance. As always, he sounds absolutely gorgeous, showing off his unique vocal tone and brilliant falsetto. Like his best work, “Too Good at Goodbyes” is (1) a ballad and (2) centered around love. Structurally, the pre-chorus serves as a key section:
“And every time you hurt me, the less that I cry / And every time you leave me, the quicker these tears dry / And every time you walk out, the less I love you / Baby, we don’t stand a chance, it’s sad but it’s true.”
“Say It First” is more contemporary sounding compared to the opener. Even so, it doesn’t compromise or change Smith. Artistically, he remains fundamentally the same. “Say It First,” in effect, is a mid-tempo ballad, the wheelhouse of pop musician.
“One Last Song” precedes “Too Good at Goodbyes” in regards to sound. Throwback soul vibes are alive and well in regards to the harmonic progression, production, and Smith’s heartfelt, hard-hitting vocals. The production, specifically, incorporates vintage background vocals, horns, strings, and piano, all part of the soul idiom. “One Last Song” ends up being one of the best moments. “Midnight Train” increases the tempo, balancing out pop and soul soundly. As always, Smith exhibits exceptional command and control, pulling back and pushing at the right moments.
“Burning,” a ballad, commences beautifully, with Smith singing the chorus a cappella. After setting the tone, piano accompaniment enters, performing an interlude. On the first verse, Smith’s emotional, but in the same token, matches the poise of the production. He begins to pick up more steam on the pre-chorus, eventually leading into the stunning chorus.
“Funny how time goes by / Had respect for myself / That river ran dry / You reach the limit / I wasn’t enough / it’s like the fire replaced all the love.”
On the second verse, Smith is more liberal with his vocal performance. By the second pre-chorus, he begins to hit his ‘sweet spot,’ flaunting his sick falsetto. Essentially, by the final chorus, with Smith letting loose, supported by soulful backing vocals.
Much of The Thrill It All sounds familiar in regards to Sam Smith establishing a sound and vibe. “HIM” maintains that familiarity, but also exhibits a ‘different look.’ That different look goes beyond the high-flying, robust choral vocals backing him. Smith is both spiritual, praying to God, and opens up about his sexuality.
“Holy father, we need to talk / I have a secret that I can’t keep / I’m not the boy that you thought you wanted / Please don’t get angry, have faith in me.”
The message goes beyond Smith’s own status as a gay man; it’s all encompassing. This is crystal clear on the chorus.
“Don’t you try and tell me that God doesn’t care for us / It is him I love, it is him I love.”
“Baby, You Make Me Crazy”
“Baby, You Make Me Crazy” is a fine mid-tempo soul cut. Among the highlights are Smith’s signature falsetto, and the appearance of the famed The Dap-King Horns. The vocal tone is simply gorgeous here, particularly the pre-chorus and chorus. Love and heartbreak remain the M.O. on “No Peace” featuring YEBBA. Here, the vocal chemistry is quite strong. “No Peace” gives Smith another respectable, sound, and enjoyable record. On “Palace,” he’s chocked full of emotion over lost love. It’s a predictable script in regards to Smith, but like so many songs about broken love, it’s authentic and worthwhile.
“I’m gonna miss you / I’m still there / Sometimes I wish we never built this palace / But real love is never a waste of time, mmm.”
On ballad “Pray,” Smith returns to religion.
“You won’t find me in church, reading the Bible / I am still here and I’m still your disciple / I’m down on my knees, I’m beggin’ you, please / I’m broken, alone and afraid.”
He expresses his skepticism towards religion and the existence of God, yet feels the need to pray and try to believe in something.
“I’m young and I’m foolish, I’ve made bad decisions / I block out the news, turn my back on religion… / Lately, that shit ain’t been gettin’ me higher / I lift up my head and the world is on fire / There’s dread in my heart and fear in my bones / And I just don’t know what to say / Maybe I’ll pray…/ I have never believed in You, no / But I’m gonna pray.”
“Nothing Left for You”
The love pain is real on “Nothing Left for You.” Smith believes he’s done with love, thanks to foolish relationship. On the dramatic chorus, he sings:
“‘Cause I gave my heart to a goddamn fool / I gave him everything / Now there’s nothing left for you.”
Introspection continues on the thrilling title track, “The Thrill of it All.” Perhaps it’s not the crème de la crème of a stacked album, it’s another thoughtful, relatable, and well-rounded moment. Reflection and authenticity continues to rule the roost on “Scars,” a song where Smith addresses his mother and father in separate verses and choruses. “One Day at a Time” concludes fittingly, progressing forward in life and love, one day at a time.
All in all, Sam Smith ‘brings the heat’ on The Thrill of it All. He serves up incredible vocal performances throughout, chocked-full of sincerity and emotion. Not every song is a ‘hit’, but all of them are generally well-rounded and reflect personal feelings on Sam’s end of things. While The Thrill of it All isn’t a groundbreaking affair, it’s a consistent and thoughtful one.
Gems: “Too Good at Goodbyes,” “One Last Song,” “Burning,” “HIM,” “Baby, You Make Me Crazy” & “Pray”