Sam Smith has a tender voice, and while domestic audiences are just now getting familiar with him, his guest appearances on Disclosure’s hit “Latch” in 2012, as well as UK star Naughty Boy’s “La La La” last year, have positioned him to be next big thing out of the UK music scene. And because homosexuality is still somehow a taboo subject, his profile may have also been raised, too, by publicly admitting in a Fader cover story that his first LP, In the Lonely Hour, is inspired by a romance with another man. That notwithstanding, his debut proves that Smith is extremely talented and who he is lusting after—man or woman—is largely irrelevant.
One of Smith’s biggest selling points is, again, his voice. While critics often compare him to Adele, In the Lonely Hour sounds substantially more raw than anything she’s ever done. That isn’t to say Smith is a better singer, but on this LP his vocals are out in front of the mix, occasionally drenched in cathedral-like reverbs and delays, which gives the LP a dated sound. The arrangements are lush and expansive—“Good Thing” and “I’m Not the Only One,” are notably highlights—but the songs are brought to life by Smith’s clever vocal arpeggiations and phrasings. There’s a soulfulness to him that not everyone has. Peep his breathy falsetto on “Life Support”—that’s a metaphor for his partner—where you can almost visualize him in the recording booth, eyes closed, belting out notes. It’s quite thrilling.
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