Sam Smith is going to be a superstar.
The 22-year-old Brit's voice is just too special to be denied -- bluesy one minute, soulful the next, moving effortlessly from fluttering falsetto to commanding pop -- on his debut, "In the Lonely Hour" (Capitol). The question is what kind.
See, Smith initially made his splash on a pair of dance hits -- Naughty Boy's "La La La" and Disclosure's "Latch" -- and many were expecting more of the same on his debut. However, aside from the opener, "Money on My Mind," where Smith declares, "I have no money on my mind, just love" when it comes from music, the dance beats are scarce. Instead, Smith serves up an emotional, ballad-heavy pop album that will likely make him an even bigger star.
Yes, he could win the "Next Adele Sweepstakes." "Leave Your Lover" packs the same emotional wallop as Adele's simpler ballads, while "I'm Not the Only One" picks up the tempo and the mood slightly. On the spare "Not in That Way," driven by a single guitar and his soaring vocals, Smith's ache over his unrequited love is wrenching.
It's going to be the source of much debate whether the move to the mainstream is better for Smith artistically. Stripping "Lay Me Down" of the more electronic opening it had as a single and slowing it down may make it slightly less interesting musically, but it also makes it a much more effective love song.
Smith clearly has some choices to make, but as good as he is, it's hard to think there will be a wrong one.
"In the Lonely Hour"
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BOTTOM LINE Stunning vocals carry Brit's debut.