Sam Smith has already been declared the next big thing in his native U.K., where he has proved to be a superstar in the making. Will he similarly be able to conquer America with his debut full-length album, “In The Lonely Hour?” In a word, yes.
While Adele works on a new album, there’s a hole for a torch-y singer who delivers emotional, gut wrenching ballads that are steeped in traditional song structure, but are produced in a thoroughly contemporary way and with enough of a hipness quotient to land on radio.
Smith was very smartly introduced to many U.S. music fans as a guest on Naughty Boy’s “La La La” and Disclosure’s “Latch” (both are included here, “Disclosure” in an acoustic version), and then through his lauded appearance on “Saturday Night Live” this Spring. Those moves primed the pump for his first single, the gospel-tinged “Stay With Me,” which is in the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.
On album opener, “Money On My Mind,” Smith’s voice glides with seemingly impossible ease over a skittering beat, giving a humanity to the synth beats and showcasing his wide range.
The listener doesn’t have to get very far into “In the Lonely Hour” before the first crushing heartbreak arrives. The album’s second song, “Good Thing,” has smash all over it. It could be Smith’s “Someone Like You.”
While it’s admittedly easy and reductive to compare Smith to Adele, it’s also an apt comparison. At an early age, both seem to have tapped into an authenticity over romantic turmoil (the Sinatra-esque-titled “In the Lonely Hour” and Adele’s “19” and “21” all chronicle the course of a shattered love affair and the resulting detritus) and express it with a soulful abandon that recalls their idols like Aretha Franklin. They not only have gorgeous voices that simply sound like no one else on the radio, they bring an aching vulnerability to their material, such as when Smith pleas for someone to leave his lover for Smith in “Leave Your Lover.”
Smith doesn’t have much other than love and betrayal on his mind, but his single-mindedness serves “In The Lonely Hour” well. There’s a commitment to his subject here and a willingness to lay himself bare that keeps the material from ever becoming monotonous. Moreover, while most everything on the album is slow or mid-tempo (though the yearning “Like I Can” rises to a nice galloping pace), there are enough stylistic production fillips to keep it interesting.
There’s something comforting and old school about Smith in this world of producer-driven confections. He’s recording songs that the listener can actually sing along to and hum. There are melodies and choruses, any of them with ear-worm appeal.
Radio will be able to go deep on “In The Lonely Hour”: There are easily five singles here, including “Life Support,” a track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Katy Perry’s “Prism” and the Otis Redding-like, spare, “Not In That Way,” which will reduce anyone whose gone through unrequited love to rubble.
Do yourself and go ahead and buy “In The Lonely Hour.” Don’t wait until he’s three singles in and has already sold a few million. Dig in now. You won’t regret it.