Sam Smith’s massive debut album was dominated by sad love songs such as ‘Stay With Me’, so it was fitting that he named it ‘In The Lonely Hour’. Now the 25-year-old is back with a second effort called ‘The Thrill Of It All’, which suggests he might have lightened up a bit. Smith started out collaborating with Disclosure (‘Latch’) and Naughty Boy (‘La La La’), so does this album herald his return to the dancefloor? Erm, no – the 10-track standard edition features nothing but ballads.
But that’s not to say it offers no artistic growth. Co-produced by Zayn and Frank Ocean collaborator Malay, ‘Say It First’ is a spare and poignant track whose guitar line recalls The xx. The gospel-flecked ‘Pray’ features reasonably trendy R&B beats, which makes sense when you spot the name ‘Timbaland’ on the credits. Smith could have duetted with anyone here, so it’s interesting that the album’s sole guest singer is an unsigned artist called YEBBA: their wonderfully dramatic break-up song ‘No Peace’ is a highlight. In recent interviews, Smith has definitely seemed more comfortable in his skin, and that’s reflected on ‘HIM’, in which he reconciles religion with falling for a man. “Don’t you try and tell me that God doesn’t care for us / It is him I love,” he sings proudly.
Occasionally, Smith slips back into blandness. The unimaginative Motown-flavoured track ‘Baby, You Make Me Crazy’ could have been sung by Olly Murs; piano ballad ‘Burning’ is a bit boring, although redeemed by lyrics that will make Smith’s vocal coach wince: “Baby, I’ve been smoking / Oh, more than 20 a day”. In fairness, it hasn’t affected his voice, which sounds typically majestic throughout.
It’s a cliché to compare Smith with fellow belter Adele, but a fairly unavoidable one. Both have become enormously successful by singing emotional ballads that connect with huge numbers of people, and both are understandably reluctant to raise the tempo as a result. But like Adele’s ‘25’, this is an undeniably accomplished album that will, deservedly, shift a helluva lot of copies.