Sam Smith: hailed as the BBC Sound Of 2014 with 202,000 twitter followers, two Number 1 singles, as well as popular collaborations with Disclosure and Naughty Boy; the expectations for this album were astronomical. Sam Smith has stated in interviews that he wanted to be “the voice for lonely people” and this debut album embraces Smith’s aims. But is this album the voice that lonely people have been waiting for?
With the exception of the first track, I’d say the theme of loneliness runs through this album and is successful in varying degrees in transfixing the listener’s attention. The album starts with Sam’s first solo Number 1, Money On My Mind, which provides an upbeat start to an admittedly emotionally compelling majority of tracks. Looking at the rest of the album, this is a standalone song in many respects. It does not focus on unrequited love or seclusion, but instead focuses on love of music. Slightly ironic considering the song’s title. In an interview with Google Play, Smith states that this song originated from a ‘run in’ he had with someone from the music industry. This rather vague back-story explains a great deal about why this track does not directly correspond with the main theme of the album. Having said this, lyrics such as, “I don’t have money on my mind, money on my mind / I do it for, I do it for the love” gave Smith his first solo link to the #YOLO generation and their frame of mind.
The rest of the album flows intensely, providing glimmers of Smith’s own experiences of unrequited love, but the person behind the album is not the focus – the universal pain of loneliness is. From one night stands in Stay With Me, fighting for love in Like I Can, to heartbreak in I’m Not The Only One, and the eventual moving on with life in Restart; In The Lonely Hour is successful in creating an experience that brings the story full circle, and thanks to Smith’s lack of gender-specifics within his lyrics, guys, girls, and “even goats” can relate to his haunting lyrics.
This is an album that takes themes or clichés that would not look out of play in the typical love song, but challenges them and reinvents them to produce an something bursting with overflowing feelings and desires. Exploring the story of In The Lonely Hour, certain songs such as Stay With Me, I’m Not The Only One, Like I Can, and Lay Me Down embrace the theme of loneliness far more, with their thought-provoking lyrics and flawless performance; heartbreak seems atypically beautiful.
For months on end I’ve had my doubts, Denying every tear, I wish this would be over now, But I know that I still need you here.
These lyrics from I’m Not the Only One highlight the inner turmoil displayed throughout the whole album, making it believable for the listener. This is the reason for the magic behind Smith’s lyrics, and why this album will capture the feelings of the universally heartbroken among us. An unexpected highlight of In The Lonely Hour was Smith’s acoustic version of the Disclosure hit, Latch. Smith is able to take a song renowned in the club scene, (a staple track in Exeter’s very own Arena) and provides a hauntingly beautiful experience. The same cannot be said for La La La - the inclusion of this track never made much sense to me, personally.
It is not all doom, however. Songs such as Restart and Make It To Me give a hopeful end to a rather heart-shattering album. Restart delivers the message to a now ‘heartbroken’ listener that everything will be okay, and you will eventually move on from this heartbreak. Lyrics such as, “It was a Monday night when you told me it was over babe / And by the Friday night, I knew that I would be okay” and, “The truth is I’m better on my own” with an unexpectedly upbeat backing track provide this fresh start.
The final track, Make It To Me, acts as a lyrical call for Smith’s soul mate to find him:
You’re the one designed for me, A distant stranger that I will complete, I know you’re out there we’re meant to be, So keep your head up and make it to me.
With a similar tenacity to the number one hit, Stay With Me, this track mirrors the sense of hope in finding that special someone. However, these songs only appear on the deluxe version – so the ordinary version’s ending of Lay Me Down certainly has a more sombre tone.
Overall, In The Lonely Hour is successful in delivering the lonely and heartbroken with a soundtrack, as well as providing a universally praiseworthy album for everyone. Smith’s sensational vocal ability along with his profound lyrics combine together to create an album which showcases not only Sam Smith the artist, but also Sam Smith the man.