After finding his way out of The Lonely Hour via an Oscar-winning turn soundtracking a Bond film, everyone’s favourite perpetually-heartbroken singer-songwriter is back with his second record: The Thrill of it All.
Sam Smith’s boldly chosen to open the album with lead single Too Good at Goodbyes, perhaps to make it easier for Spotify users to track it down, which they’d managed nearly 300 million times at the time of writing. Like the rest of the tracks on the album, it allows Smith to show off his ridiculous vocal range, though I can’t help but find it a bit repetitive and please, don’t get me started on the way he’s rhymed ‘…close to me’ with ‘…most to me’!
The same charge of ‘nice but a little bit boring’ could be levelled at No Peace if it weren’t for a lovely co-performance from guest vocalist Yebba. Sam’s often accused of over-singing, but manages to play nicely with others on this occasion by reining in his excesses to allow his vocal partner to shine. Yebba’s voice has a lovely break at its height and when the two sing together, their harmonies are a delight which make the duet one of my favourites on the album.
Sam shines on the other tracks where he gives his voice a bit of a break. Warm synths and some gentler low notes to complement those famous falsetto sections make Say it First a bit of a musical hot water bottle, which swaps the singer’s standard, dejected tone for a more optimistic one. One Day at a Time has a similar warmth to it and, following the same theme as Ed Sheeran’s Castle on the Hill (an ode to the part of Suffolk where he grew up), is described by its writer as a “love letter” to close friends who live in his adopted hometown of Hampstead.
Critics and fans have written plenty about the album’s themes, which despite first impressions range further and wider than in his debut album. HIM is an obvious candidate for over-analysis. It tells the story of a gay man coming out to his ‘Holy Father’ – a tale which Sam (who’s known for discussing highly personal topics on tracks including Stay With Me and Leave Your Lover) says is not based on his own experiences. HIM is a wonderfully tender track until a couple of minutes in, when a crescendo kicks in that’s only a string section away from launching into ‘Bond theme’ mode.
Religion is further explored in Pray: a track whose rhymes include ‘bible’ with ‘disciple’ and ‘sinner’ with ‘winner’. Worry not, though, if you’re in need of a good cry! Palace and Nothing Left For You return to the trusty post-break up feels which made In the Lonely Hour such a relatable success, though they do so in very different ways. Whilst the former is rich in metaphors about how true love is “never a waste of time”, the latter is full of bitterness towards an ex that Smith dismisses as ‘a God-damn fool’ who’s put paid to his hopes of finding happiness with anybody else.
Although Baby, You Make Me Crazy sounds like it should be equally morbid, it surprised me in the most heart-warming way. It’s my favourite track off the album. I reckon Sam took inspiration from Hozier’s Live Lounge cover of Lay Me Down when he imbued it with such a swaggering bassline and flamboyant brass section. The song’s apparently all about the liberating feeling of putting off being sad about a breakup until another time, which makes me feel like a bit less of a sociopath for loving Smith’s rolling vocal as he talks about breaking down and crying, but also begs the obvious question: “Is it possible to learn this power?”
Whilst the Thrill of it All features a few stand-out tracks, it took a few listens to pick them out, especially when compared to the plethora of earworms which made up the singer’s first album. If you’re onto your third solo glass of Pinot and hoping to find a post-break up soundtrack which competes on the same stellar level as In the Lonely Hour, I’d advise looking elsewhere (potentially towards the tour de force that is Lorde’s Melodrama). Despite its lack of obvious ‘number one’ contenders, however, Sam Smith’s flawless and soothing vocals alone make his new album worth at least a couple of listens.