The Thrill of It All
Capitol Records · November 3, 2017
Ever since his debut album In the Lonely Hour back in 2014, Sam Smith has cornered the market on songs made for when you want to sink into a deep state of emotional vulnerability. He made you feel like you’re not the only one, in a much more reassuring way than one of his hit songs laments. It’s that emotional relatability that made and continues to make Sam Smith so appealing, in conjunction of course with that voice — that heart wrenching, soul-rattling, life-altering, singularly stunning voice. Sam Smith’s sophomore release is a continuation of his heart-on-his-sleeve musical journey; and with every journey, there are times of triumph and growth, but also dry patches of monotony. The Thrill of It All lags at moments when it relies too heavily on the familiar sound and style that brought Smith success in the past. It is at its most paramount when it capitalizes on Sam’s growth, as the twenty-five-year-old singer plays into a newfound sense of confidence and honesty throughout the album.
I’ll admit, at first listen of The Thrill of It All, I thought I was listening to In the Lonely Hour Pt. Two. The ten-track album is filled with more crooning ballads, endless falsettos, catchy hooks, and that soulful, emotive quality that brings a good ole’ feeling of heartache with each song. It is Sam Smith doing what Sam Smith does best, but it felt a little too familiar. The first single off The Thrill of It All, ‘Too Good at Goodbyes,’ which has been riding the top of the charts since its release, simply felt too predictable. It was carried to commercial success by Sam’s sheer stardom and some well-placed snaps. ‘Pray,’ the second single released, gave off a much more genuine feel, and hinted toward the gospel and religious influences that would be further incorporated in other parts of the album. With Timbaland brought on for production, the song feels dynamic, and Sam’s delivery is sincere. As the chorus repeats “I’ve never believed in you no, but I’m gonna pray” we hear Sam singing about his struggles with his faith, a refreshing break from his usual subject of lost love. It was one of the songs that made me realize the album as a whole was more nuanced than I originally thought, albeit in a subtle way.
Smith shines in the two upbeat tracks on the album dubbed “dance-and-cry” songs by the artist himself (it seems like the goal is to always keep us crying). ‘One Last Song’ and ‘Baby, You Make Me Crazy’ have a vintage, bluesy sound that Sam Smith’s voice melts effortlessly into with fluidity and passion. These songs just have a good little zing to them that pays tribute to an older sound, one that deserves a revival on the pop charts. Had he departed further from his conventional ballads and explored this Motown-inspired soul even more, The Thrill of It All could have been much more vibrant, and — dare I say it — thrilling.
‘HIM’ is a glowing standout on the album for its lyrical impact. Smith addresses a “Holy Father” throughout the song, as he opens up about his struggle in reconciling his relationship with God in regards to his homosexuality. Each line feels deeply intimate and personal, and is sung with a gentle earnestness. This candor and frankness about his sexuality was something that went previously unmentioned in Smith’s first album, so this song in particular demonstrates an intentional shift in subject matter, and again speaks to the growth seen on this album. Considering Sam Smith’s influence and platform in the pop music industry, incorporating a decidedly LGBTQ viewpoint into his songwriting could encourage and bolster other LGBTQ artists, and impact how they elect to incorporate their identity into their music as well.
The Thrill of It All is by no means a step in the wrong direction for Sam Smith. While he could have done more to stretch himself artistically, it is certainly still a notable start towards a richer development of an artist who has already created a niche for himself in the music world. The blander moments of the album don’t stand out sorely, but rather just sit quietly in the background, as the record is ultimately carried by Sam’s incredible vocal prowess and his ability to tap into the emotions of his listeners by baring his own story. If anything, The Thrill of It All is not so much reflective of where Sam Smith is now, but instead holds more promise of what he will do next with the inklings of growth that this album has fostered.