R&B is in the midst of an identity crisis, having given way to the raunchier, vulgar imagery in recent years. Old contemporary R&B (we call it the “baby come back home” style) has been making its way back into the mainstream with such artists as Justin Timberlake and John Legend. I’m a believer that music thrives more on what’s honest and not necessarily what the artist thinks we want to hear. Enter Sam Smith and his debut album, In the Lonely Hour. Smith has stated that most of the album is based on the subject of unrequited love. While the album excels as a very honest body of work, the lack of variety may have deterred it from being a truly great debut.
Fans of the singer’s collaboration with fellow Brit Disclosure on the mega-hit “Latch” may feel a little disappointed. The opening song “Money on my Mind” is the closest song you will get to an uptempo, feel-good song. Most of the album goes down a reflective and melancholy path. The single “Stay with Me” sets the tone for Lonely Hour. It’s a man who has experienced love that’s changed him and he’s finding any way to hold on to a semblance of it. The vulnerability of this album is something to be admired as music and society alike have made it almost commonplace to conceal any similitude to what you feel.
My issue with Lonely Hour may not even be with the album itself, but with the timing of the release. Sam Smith’s debut is being compared to Adele’s 21 album almost unceasingly. While there are similarities in the susceptibility of love lost, 21 excelled in portraying the array of emotions of love lost. Retribution, liberation, and defeat are just a few of the subjects that Adele touched on. Smith’s debut, with most of the composition draped in acoustic guitar and piano, does not deter from the script. It plays it a little TOO safe. To borrow from the song “Good Thing”: “Too much of a good thing won’t be good for long.”
Sam Smith has an amazing voice that I’m sure we will hear from for many years to come. One song that particularly shows off his vocal ability with the faint acoustic guitar that paints the scene for a tearjerker is “Not in That Way”. (I’m so reliant, I’m so dependent. I’m such a fool.”) We’ve all been heartbroken and the cracks of those recent or distant heartbreaks will be able to relate to these collection of songs. However, we experience a wide variety of emotions before our eventual fall. This is a solid debut for Mr. Smith, but with an amazing voice, I hope that he goes down the musical road less traveled to realize its full potential.