Sam Smith said “hello” to fans for the first time in three years with the release of “Too Good at Goodbyes,” followed by his impactful, In The Lonely Hour follow-up The Thrill Of It All. And thrilling it is – not just because the radio needs such a caliber of vocal excellence, but because of the storytelling behind the album’s tracks.
In the work, Smith asserts himself as both storyteller and singer. As the record opens with “Too Good at Goodbyes,” it seems the 25-year-old artist admits his departure from the shackles of unrequited love that grounded his 2014 efforts. Really, Smith jumps between closure and coming of self through and through.
Tracks like “One Last Song” breathe a light, airy sound – boosted by self-assurance– into the pained heartbreak of his self-proclaimed “lonely hour” (a time of failed love that Smith said inspired his previous album’s name) and “HIM,” proclaiming “It is him I love” – almost suggesting a new romantic interest in his life.
This shift in content is fairly obvious in the detailed accounts Smith gives. Here, he’s transparent. He removes filters in his lyricism, showing growth in self and in artistry (both somewhat synonymous), asserting lines like, “I’ve been smoking more than 20 a day; blame it on rebellion; blame it on me / Wish I was younger; back to the 19th of May; I had an open mind; swore it’d never change.”
As he did In The Lonely Hour, Smith establishes a level of relatability with his listeners in a simple choice to be honest – but, here, it’s his sonic shift that elevates that storytelling to a place deserving of more than the Billboard Hot 100. There’s a vigor to his voice we rarely hear in the day’s chart-topping artists. It’s that whole Amy Winehouse sound – bold, shaken, natural.
It’s not about production. Accompaniment and choir support serve as mere garnishing to his iconic trills – bouncing from guttural groans on “HIM” to high-hitting falsettos on The Thrill Of It All and “Scars.” And, of course, those two diaphragm capabilities overlap at times – still in harmonious, melodic swoops from line to line.
And there’s no genre The Thrill Of It All can be cast into. Tracks like “Pray” and “Nothing Left For You” prove that with a unique one-part soul, one-part blues blend that shakes speakers and hearts alike. Really, stripped of vocals, the pained inspiration behind these pieces would still come through.
The Thrill Of It All is a sure success on the charts, but a clear success for Smith on a personal level. He’s grown as a person and artist. The training-sparked bolster in his vocal quality shows dedication to the craft. The candid approach to his songwriting proves acceptance of situation. And, for fans who look to him for inspiration in their own acceptance, Smith’s assignment of gender labels in discussing lovers encourages those not “out.”
And, as the album closes with the hopefulness of “One Day At A Time,” we’re propelled forward with a beautiful work to accompany us on our own journeys, and thought of where Smith will take us next.