Despite having a recording career reaching back into his mid-teens, Sam Smith didn’t garner substantial recognition for his vocal talents until 2012 when he featured on the Disclosure single, Latch, as a twenty-year-old. What followed was another successful guest spot, this time on Naughty Boy’s La La La in 2013, and his commercially successful début album, In the Lonely Hour, in 2014. Now, at twenty-five, the English singer releases his follow up effort, The Thrill of it All.
As with In the Lonely Hour, Smith’s vocal prowess is on full display on The Thrill of it All, with the timbre and expressive quality of his voice making it clear just why he has gravitated to being a blue-eyed soul performer. Opening track and lead single, Too Good at Goodbyes, lyrically treads similar ground to much of In the Lonely Hour, concerned as it is with a failed romance, but this time with the added twist of being better at breaking up and establishing emotional distance. The track’s choral elements provide a pleasant texture, setting up and supporting Smith’s vocals.
Opening a cappella, Burning maintains its minimal arrangement across its three-and-a-half-minutes with only piano, and a little bass, being added to flesh the track out sonically. While the track’s lyrics skirt a little close to ‘woe is me’ territory, the quality of the vocal performance – check out the harmonies on the chorus – and arrangement result in a song that feels all too brief. Burning tonally dovetails into HIM, which unobtrusively expands the formers sonic palette. HIM’s narrative deftly explores the intersection of faith, love, acceptance, and intolerance. It makes for compelling listening and the record’s standout track.
Timbaland provides production for Pray, and the track makes for a fitting end to the standard edition of The Thrill of it All. Deluxe editions feature four additional songs, including the titular The Thrill of it All, and Scars provides an intriguing and intimate insight into the blameless breakdown of a family. Musically it’s easy to see why Scars wasn’t included in the core album, but that’s still a shame. With The Thrill of it All Smith makes it plain why he is a renowned vocalist but – with a few standout exceptions – the songs fail to match his talent as a singer.