Sam Smith is a music industry tale as old as time. A voice first heard featured on some inescapable song (Disclosure’s ‘Latch’), followed up by their own even more inescapable stand-alone hit (‘Stay With Me’) and the blockbuster album that follows (‘In The Lonely Hour’). However, on his sophomore effort, Smith strays from the formula, because The Thrill of it All, unlike many second LPs, is nothing close to a disappointment.
The Thrill of it All builds on everything that worked so brilliantly on its predecessor, exploring themes of heartbreak and longing that just match the marvellous voice behind them. But Smith does not remain stagnant, instead experimenting and developing his sound. Notably, the electronic-tinged ‘Say it First’, that sees Smith plead for someone to tell him he loves him, and the doo-wop, motown-esque flow of ‘One Last Song’ and ‘Baby, You Make Me Crazy’ that sounds marvellously like Amy Winehouse.
The album has moments where you wonder just how far Smith has developed his sound. ‘Too Good At Goodbyes’ and ‘Midnight Train’ sound like tracks that were cut from In The Lonely Hour, the former being a grating, hollow track with a choir backed chorus that just doesn’t work. In fact, the use of gospel choirs on this album is anything but subtle. It works slightly better in the final chorus of ‘Burning’, a piano ballad that, along with ‘Palace’, bridges the gap between Smith’s debut and sophomore efforts that are neither brilliant nor terrible.
However, the album’s second half contains some of Smith’s strongest work to date, as it takes a more passionate approach, replacing the mournful vocal that Smith is so accustomed with and replacing it with a more powerful, raw and angry vocal as he muses about religion. ‘HIM’ is the album’s strongest track lyrically, adopting a similar story-telling technique to that of Taylor Swift’s earlier work, addressing Smith’s experience in openly loving someone of the same sex and the judgement that comes with that. ‘Pray’ also discuss Smith’s relationship with religion and incorporates a trap-like beat and gorgeous deep vocals. The album’s lone collaboration, featuring YEBBA, is a polished pop song that matches a spectacularly chill beat to the pair’s passionate vocal performance, a pairing that works incredibly well on the album’s standout track.
Ultimately, Smith’s second album, The Thrill of it All, is a solid effort with more brilliance than mediocrity, but is burdened by the growing pains of leaving his prior effort behind. That being said, the album only further proves Smith’s incredible talent as a vocalist and when he wants to be, a great songwriter.