It’s been all ears on Sam Smith ever since his debut “In The Lonely Hour” permanently pinned him on the music map. Now, after billions of streams and four Grammys, the soulful troubadour of heartache returns with his much awaited second album “The Thrill Of It All.”
First single “Too Good At Goodbyes,” with it’s sparse piano intros that eventually rise into gospel-tinged choruses, gave a sneak peak into what the new album’s feel is like. And it’s good to know that he’s following the don’t-fix-it-if-it-ain’t-broke rule. Here, Smith digs deeper into the tortured lover themes he so effectively mined on his first outing.
“Say It First” casts soulful balladry against a backdrop of moody electronic soundscapes.
There’s longing and a promise of mind-blowing intimacy as Smith sings in his most aching falsetto “If I’m all that you desire /I promise there’ll be fire.” But there’s a laying of the ground rules first, as he finishes the chorus with “I know you’ll take me higher / so come on darling, if you love me, say it first.”
“One Last Song” has got us from the start with its Motown-inspired sounds. Ditto with “Midnight Train” which reminds somewhat of Radiohead’s “Creep.” Perhaps it’s the sparkly guitar progression that give it away. But as a track, especially on the buildup, it stands on its own as a tuneful ballad.
And while quite inevitable, a mention of a fellow Brit and torch singer in Amy Winehouse must come to pass whilst listening to “Baby, You Make Me Crazy.”
Elsewhere, “Burning” puts the focus of Smith’s expressive vocals. The unaccompanied intro alone could land him the proverbial golden ticket from “American Idol” judges, if he wasn’t already a Grammy-certified multi-platinum artist.
Most of the songs on Smith’s second full-length set sound like journal entry confessionals and strong statements. Quite literally so on “HIM,” as he sings “Holy father we need to talk /I have a secret that I can’t keep.” And finishes, quite transparently with “I’m not the boy that you thought you wanted.” Later he intones “Say I shouldn’t be here, but I can’t give up his touch /It is him I love, it it him” as it nears its grand, chorale finish.
All throughout gems pop out. “No Peace” featuring Harlem-based powerhouse singer Yebba, live–sounding “Palace,” the sparse James Bond theme-feels of “Nothing Left For You,” the old school R&B-tinged title track, the Timbaland beat-supplied “Pray,” and album closer “One Day At A Time” shine on their own right.
At their core, all 14 songs are at the crux of heartbreak and goodbye. Every corner is a listenable affair and proves that the singer is not a one hit album fluke.
More importantly, it proves what we all know already anyway: Smith is one of the best artists of his generation.