Four Grammys, three years and two BRIT awards after his debut, In the Lonely Hour, Sam Smith has triumphantly returned with his highly anticipated sophomore record, The Thrill of It All, which has topped the UK and US charts just a week after its release. As disclosed in his New York Times interview, Smith is an emotional man. He’s spoken of the many occasions he’s cried tears for his music, films and other memories and occasions, which solidifies his reputation as a soulful soloist whose lyrics often sound like they belong in an intimate love letter or diary rather than a top ten album. This seems to work in Smith’s favour, however, as it crafts a record with tracks shadowing the trademark signature of Smith’s songbook to date.
maintains his skill as creating seamlessly melancholic ballads
Smith’s first single since lending his voice to the soundtrack of James Bond’s latest escapade Spectre, ‘Too Good at Goodbyes’ may have marked the launch of his new album, yet maintains his skill as creating seamlessly melancholic ballads, as he recalls leaving a turbulent relationship. Evident in the subsequent number ‘Say It First’, the instrumental backdrops of the songs are just as smooth as the vocals themselves.
There are efforts at trying something new in the album, however. ‘One Last Song’ has a more optimistic tempo than its predecessors, and its drumbeats and light piano notes may be a stab at something more positive; nonetheless the lyrics once again reflect a relationship at its end, with lines such as “when it was good it was bittersweet, honey” floating about the falsetto-tinged chorus. Another break-up song is up next, yet its doo-wop rhythm wouldn’t sound out of place on Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. A slightly different perspective is offered however, with Smith choosing to end the relationship and expressing his worries about the pain he’ll cause, and asking “am I a monster? What will your family think of me?”.
In his Beats 1 interview with Zane Lowe, Smith described the album’s halfway marker ‘Burning’ as the “core” of the album. Despite the piano which runs parallel throughout most of the song, the emphasis on the song’s vocals perhaps reflects the track’s significance to the artist. If it wasn’t clear enough before, the influence of Smith’s idol George Michael is detectable in the rawness of his music’s emotions.
its doo-wop rhythm wouldn’t sound out of place on Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black
‘HIM’ seems to partly respond to the lack of male pronouns in Smith’s debut, as an openly gay singer, and recalls the story of a boy disclosing his sexuality to his father, his priest and God. It makes for fresh listening on an album so thematically polarised until now. The following ‘Baby, You Make Me Crazy’ slips by with a soulful brass streak playing throughout. ‘No Peace’ feat. YEBBA fills Smith’s longing for a duet, as the two voices intertwine to result in a track which sounds as though it stems from the epicentre of heartbreak.
Penultimate ‘Palace’ ambiguously appears to cover one single relationship and the remnants of all Smith’s previous relationships, with poignancy weaved in upon reflecting that “real love is never a waste of time”. ‘Pray’ rounds off the record nicely and once again showcases Smith’s vocal range throughout the repetition of the title in the chorus; it’s a piece which blends Smith’s favoured gospel tone with flecks of hip hop rhythm. As the album draws to a close, the attempts at newer experiments on this highly anticipated album are acknowledged with some standout tracks, yet it may provoke thoughts that it may be just that bit too similar to Sam Smith’s debut – or perhaps that’s the thrill of it all.