Album Review: Sam Smith - The Thrill of It All | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Album Review: Sam Smith – The Thrill of It All

Sam Smith's sophomore effort is emotionally raw and potent, yet shows signs of stagnation, Comment Editor Kat Smith reviews

Since the release of his monumental debut album in 2014, the world has been waiting for the return of one of today’s best voices: Sam Smith. Familiar in its subject matter, personality and sound, The Thrill of It All boasts a diverse collection of songs. It is a showcase of Smith’s undeniable talent, honesty and rawness.

Inspired by the collapse of a relationship, Smith’s album is noticeably honest in its misery across the 14 songs. Though indulgent in its sadness, its authenticity is a refreshing break from the contents of the current mainstream charts.

Opening with ‘Too Good at Goodbyes’, the leading number-one single that is currently in the Apple Music charts not only once but twice, the standard is set for the rest of the album. It is safe to say that it does not disappoint. ‘Say It First’, the ‘only positive love song [he’s] ever written in [his] life’ and the first proper introduction to the album, is a second gentle, mellow and romantic. Detailing the relationship itself before the breakdown. Of course, Smith’s album, sadly, isn’t a happy one about the brilliance of his love life and the lyrics ‘I never feel like this I'm used to emptiness in my heart’ signal the pain to come.

Details of chain-smoking to deal with a break-up in ‘Burning’ contribute to Smith’s overarching theme of all-consuming anguish over lost love
Although there are not as many number-one worthy songs in comparison to Smith’s debut, In the Thrill of It All doesn’t see Sam Smith finding a new sound. ‘Pray’ is reminiscent of ‘Stay With Me’ in its backing vocals and ‘Too Good at Goodbyes’ could have comfortably sat between ‘Leave Your Lover’ and ‘I’m Not The Only One’. Though it would be intriguing to see Sam Smith refresh his sound, it’s clear that his appeal hasn’t wavered. His trademark of heartbreak and honesty remain and are far from repetitive to listen to. Details of chain-smoking to deal with a break-up in ‘Burning’ contribute to Smith’s overarching theme of all-consuming anguish over lost love. ‘One Last Song’ recalls being ‘Sad until (he) loved the shade of blue.’

Though the media speculation about ‘what song is about who?’ getting tiresome, the mix of relatable messages and the feeling that Smith is singing to a certain someone makes the album both authentic and emotional to listen to.

It is clear that the subject matter has deepened since In The Lonely Hour and his lyrics have become more haunting
It is clear that the subject matter has deepened since In The Lonely Hour and his lyrics have become more haunting. My favourite on the album, ‘HIM’ is nothing short of a masterpiece. It details coming out to God, walking the streets of Mississippi holding his lover’s hand and striving to ‘make you understand.’ The outro is especially haunting: ‘Holy Father, judge my sins / I’m not afraid of what they will bring / I’m not the boy that you thought you wanted / I love him.’ It is cinematic in its musicality and powerful in its lyrics. There’s a reason Elton John called it ‘one of the best songs written in the last 10 years’ and it better than anything else released by Smith. If you’re going to listen to only one song on the album, it is this one.

As the seventh song on the album, disguised as a half-time break from the sadness (though really as emotionally-charged as the remainder of the album) ‘Baby, You Make Me Crazy’s apparent cheeriness positions itself as another favourite on the album. The upbeat melody and brass accompaniments of contrast to the solemn lyrics: ‘Why do you have to fill my heart with sorrow?’ Similar to ‘One Last Long’, it is musically distinctive from the rest of the album, which feels more sombre both in their lyrics and their solemn feel.

A weaker song, ‘No Peace’, is a duet and unfortunately YEBBA’s vocals pale in comparison to Smith’s. His distinctive voice is hard to match, so it’s no wonder than any collaboration ends up with him overpowering the other singer, despite YEBBA’s talent. I also can’t help but feel that a duet was out of place in such a personal, diary-like album, leaving YEBBA seeming like an intruder.  It would be a strength on any other album, yet falls short of the high standard of music on The Thrill of It All.

The Guardian dubbed the backing music ‘stale’, yet I cannot see why such a distinctive voice needs to carried by ground-breaking instrumentals. Including its simplicity in ‘Burning’, the music is perfect for the mood of the songs. Anything more would merely overpower Smith’s vocals or undermine his vulnerability. If they were hoping him to change to electronic arrangements or dubstep drops, I’m glad their expectations were not met.

I also can’t help but feel that a duet was out of place in such a personal, diary-like album, leaving YEBBA seeming like an intruder
The Thrill of It All’s main weakness is that the strongest, most distinctive songs on the album are all in the first half. Towards the end, with the exception of ‘Pray’ and ‘The Thrill of It All’, the songs become more similar. Though this may be part of the narrative, documenting the excitement and devastation of the relationship and its destruction, ending with the gradual fall-out, with Smith confessing ‘Sometimes I wish we never built this palace / But real love is never a waste of time’

In The Lonely Hour was a particularly strong debut album and set Smith’s bar high; The Thrill of It All may not have as many single-worthy songs but is a brilliant second release nonetheless.

'The Thrill of it All' is available to stream now. Sam Smith will tour the UK in April 2018, tickets are available here.

Opinionated second-year Philosophy student and houmous enthusiast. (@katlouiise)



Published

14th November 2017 at 9:00 am



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