By David Guillaum
British Neo-soul singer Sam Smith had his first brush with stardom in October of 2012 when he was featured on Disclosure’s hit single “Latch,” peaking at No. 11 in the UK charts. This, coupled with his subsequent feature on Naughty Boy’s “La La La,” gave him his first number-one hit single and brought him into the national consciousness.
Since then, Sam’s made quite a name for himself as a solo artist. His critically acclaimed work has earned him a 2014 BRIT Critics’ Choice Award and placed him atop the BBC Sound of 2014 Poll. Sam recently released his debut record In The Lonely Hour to a receptive audience.
His incredible vocal prowess and control, along with his willingness to take creative risks make for a uniquely gripping combination. This is a singer/songwriter who knows how to keep listeners active and on their toes. One moment his voice is sweet and often smoky, seamlessly switching in and out of a dreamy falsetto, and then without warning he’s belting in a full-throated, soulful growl, reminiscent of America’s great vocalists.
But, don’t you dare box him into a genre—Sam Smith once remarked to BBC News that “ …[he doesn’t] miss artists like Elton John, Prince, Michael Jackson, and George Michael where the genre, the ‘sound’ was not at the forefront; [rather,] it was the voice and the lyric,” adding that “[he] really hope[s] [his] voice is the sound of this album, because genre wise… [he] couldn’t tell you what genre one song is.” Although there are powerful gospel, soul, R&B and dance music references in the record, accurately pinning a single genre down is indeed a daunting task. This record is perfect for long contemplative drives, dancing around your bedroom as you get ready in the morning (I know I can’t be the only one who does this), and everything in between. Songs like “Money on my Mind” and “La La La” have incredibly fun and catchy hooks that will follow you the rest of your day. In fact, even mentioning either of those songs is enough to get them playing in my head all over again.
However, even with all of the fun upbeat music on In The Lonely Hour, Sam Smith doesn’t exactly live in a 24/7dance party fantasy either. Have you ever felt unrequited love? Been trapped in a dead-end relationship, or experienced a codependent nightmare? Yeah, me too. We all have, and songs like “Not In That Way” and “Lay Me Down” capture those emotions beautifully and thoughtfully.
This record also demonstrates Sam’s ability as a lyricist. His lyrics are raw, conversational, and always emotional. The marriage of his passionate voice and equally emotive lyrics pack a heavy punch. His performance of “Stay With Me” on SNL was nothing short of enchanting; his stage presence and honesty made it hard to look away for too long.
Despite the difficulty UK-based artists sometimes face when they bring their talents stateside, Sam Smith appears to have been successful in inspiring American listeners to acquiesce fairly effortlessly. After listening to In The Lonely Hour, I am not surprised by this in the least. This is definitely a singer you will want to keep your eyes on if you haven’t already, as I’m sure his talents will only become further refined with time.