KUNM

Sam Smith Offers Brand New Tracks With Vintage Feel In 'The Thrill Of It All'

Nov 6, 2017
Originally published on November 7, 2017 9:38 am
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Three years ago, British soul singer Sam Smith released his debut album "In The Lonely Hour."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAY WITH ME")

SAM SMITH: (Singing) Oh, won't you stay with me? 'Cause you're all I need.

MCEVERS: It was one of the best-selling records of 2014. It won four Grammys. It drew comparisons to Adele. Sam Smith's second project is called "The Thrill Of It All." Music critic Will Hermes says it's a classic soul record grounded in the 21st century.

WILL HERMES, BYLINE: Sam Smith leads with his voice on this new record, and it's a smart move.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOO GOOD AT GOODBYES")

SMITH: (Singing) You must think that I'm stupid. You must think that I'm a fool.

HERMES: He's a powerful singer who sounds great over electronic beats, something he proved on "Latch," his breakthrough single with the DJ duo Disclosure. But it's vocal nuance that makes him one of the greatest pop singers in the game right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOO GOOD AT GOODBYES")

SMITH: (Singing) But every time you hurt me, the less that I cry. And every time you leave me, the quicker these tears dry. And every time you walk out, the less I love you. Baby, we don't stand a chance. It's sad but it's true. I'm way too good at goodbyes.

HERMES: This song, "Say It First," is the nearest thing to a dance club track on the record. On most songs, Smith employs the classic soul approach of singers like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and even Amy Winehouse, who Smith echoes on this track.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE LAST SONG")

SMITH: (Singing) I'm sending a message to you and I'm hoping that it will get through. When it was good it was bittersweet, honey. You made me sad till I loved the shade of blue.

HERMES: Smith loves using choirs for gospel gravitas. And it works for his voice, which can soar rapturously from falsetto to low tenor and then back again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIM")

SMITH: (Singing) Holy father, we need to talk. I have a secret that I can't keep.

HERMES: The song "HIM" shows that combination at its most indelible. Smith is an out gay man. And while the song's love story feels universal, it also reads as a de facto civil rights anthem.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIM")

SMITH: (Singing) I walk the streets of Mississippi. I hold my lover by the hand. I feel you staring when he is with me. How can I make you understand?

HERMES: Like many of us, the album concerns itself with politics only when forced to. Its central obsession, like that of most great soul records, is love - searching for it, cultivating it, recovering from it. Not every song is as memorable as "HIM," but each is elevated by Smith's voice into something magnificent that feels vintage and at the same time brand-new.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRAY")

SMITH: (Singing) Maybe I'll pray, pray. Maybe I'll pray.

MCEVERS: Sam Smith's sophomore album is called "The Thrill Of It All." Our critic, Will Hermes, is the author of "Love Goes To Buildings On Fire."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRAY")

SMITH: (Singing) You won't find me in church... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.