“The Thrill of It All”
BOTTOM LINE Making sad, sophisticated soul sound oh-so-good
Sam Smith is back with a sophomore album, “The Thrill of It All” (Capitol), filled with more tales of heartbreak and unrequited love. But unlike his stunning, chart-topping 2014 debut “In the Lonely Hour,” Smith now sings from a stronger, more confident position, which is reflected in the music.
The first single, “Too Good at Goodbyes,” reflects Smith’s growing confidence, though the result is still a doomed relationship. Nevertheless, the music shows what separates him from Adele and numerous other British soul singers. Though “Too Good at Goodbyes” is a ballad, Smith’s phrasing is faster and backed subtly by finger snaps that support the faster tempo.
For “The Thrill of It All,” the musical backdrop is far lusher than it was on his debut, though Smith’s voice is still distinctive enough and powerful enough to command the spotlight in every song.
“Pray” is the boldest example of his vocal strength, as he exquisitely draws out the notes of the chorus, extending them in a way that other singers would have done through technological tricks. Smith’s swooping vocal twists make his singing about deciding to pray seem even more poignant. “Him,” where Smith declares his love for another man and accepts the consequences, is his boldest lyrical statement, pointedly singing “Don’t you try and tell me that God doesn’t care for us, it is him I love.”
Smith may be most successful, though, when he transforms old-school Memphis soul for “Baby, You Make Me Crazy,” drawing energy from the horn section and the backing vocalists to create his most uplifting musical moment and one of the year’s best songs, even though it is about another struggling relationship.
Sometimes, Smith’s sadness becomes a bit overwhelming, but his voice remains a marvel, making “The Thrill of It All” an even more potent statement than his thrilling debut.