For Better Or Worse, There’s Still Nothing Quite Like Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour

camjameson
Written by camjameson
/ 10 mins read

In a time when revealing your innermost insecurities to the world in sonic form had generally fallen from favour in popular music – following the decline of mid-noughties Emo music – & LGBTQ+ representation amongst mainstream artists was seemingly few & far between, English singer-songwriter Sam Smith found success as a much-needed breath of fresh air within the industry, hitting audiences like a ton of bricks with his overwhelmingly melancholy ballads & soothing vocal timbre that made you feel a deep sadness unlike any other. Aside from fellow Brit idol Adele, no one in Pop music had the confidence to illustrate just how unfathomably terrifying the pursuit of love could be in today’s day & age, typically opting to write narratives of undying passion or silent adoration which expressed nothing more than fantastical ideals of romantic attraction rather than presenting the harrowingly difficult nature of love itself, so when Smith hit the scene it was as if we’d climbed Mount Olympus to receive enlightenment from a mythical soothsayer who had our best interests in mind, unlocking the full potential of our emotional proclivities to expose a brilliant new world of Pop we’d long overlooked; He was a voice of reason cutting through the noise of Club culture that had so suddenly taken control over our radios, asking us to look into our hearts & see if we were truly happy with the progress we’d made in life or if we were merely going day to day searching for the lowest-common-denominator of affection, filling the void inside with meaningless one-night-stands in an ever-pervasive hookup culture that would ultimately lead us nowhere down the line – Naturally, most people are fairly hesitant to admit they’re not as romantically-fulfilled as they’d like to be in their dreams, but the sheer scope of Smith’s popularity following the release of his debut studio album In The Lonely Hour proves just how impactful his presence was in the progress of modern Pop music, literally changing the lyrical structures & acceptance of sensitivity in songwriting ever since; I mean, you could easily throw a dart anywhere on the map of popular acts these days & find yourself confronted by an artist whose bread & butter consists of gloomy Synth Pop jams about mental instability, depression & regret for potentially-romantic encounters not taken, all of which became common topics shortly after Smith struck songwriting gold on In The Lonely Hour, mainstream artist like Lorde, Khalid & FKA Twigs being noteworthy examples from very different genres – However you slice it, this album is far more important than most would care to admit, although that doesn’t necessarily mean it is without fault, as with extreme fame also comes the risk of overexposure, turning once-captivating tunes into the very bane of audiences’ sonic existence.

An Enviable Star From Day One

Though he’d been making the rounds across England’s singer-songwriter circuits for quite some time as a member of numerous Jazz bands as well making appearances in musical theatre groups like Youth Music Theatre UK, the general public’s first official taste of Sam Smith’s incredible vocal prowess came in the form of a feature on Disclosure’s universally-acclaimed 2012 banger “Latch,” a riveting Vocal House number that singlehandedly reintroduced mainstream audiences to the beauty & splendor of nineties-era Diva House thanks to brothers Howard & Guy Lawrence’s phenomenal grasp of electronic composition, pumping out catchy dance beats with a bright digital charm over which Smith applied his harrowingly emotional vocals. In addition to revitalizing the House music scene that’d taken a backseat to celebrity-focused Club-centric Dance Pop music from 2008 to 2011, this track introduced the world to Smith as a powerhouse vocalist rivaling even the most prominent divas of the time such as the aforementioned Adele & others like Lady Gaga or Florence + The Machine, immediately ingratiating himself with audiences as a sight to behold whom we’d be remiss not to pay attention to in the years to follow – So, with such immense expectations weighing down upon his shoulders, how did Smith fare when it came time to release his first studio outing In The Lonely Hour? Speaking redundantly, he left listeners flabbergasted by taking a sharp left-turn into unfathomably sincere songwriting territory, flipping the script from the upbeat dance numbers which sealed his fate & exposing his insecurities for all to see. In what’s certainly a peculiar move, Smith & his label chose to release his upcoming album’s final track “Lay Me Down” as his initial single, rather than the customary first or second song usually used to draw audiences in with an instantly-gratifying reminder of why they like him in the first place, not only forcing listeners to sit through his entire album just to hear the one song they know but simultaneously illustrating that he means serious business, pushing out a somber vocal ballad focused entirely on him as a character with minor support from a tender piano & some symphonic instrumentation towards the end of the track which showed how epic & grandiose he could be given the appropriate backup. Audiences experienced the very depths of his soul as he sang ever-so-delicately about the intricacies of adolescent love, feeling his pain on an intimate level whilst reveling in the absolutely stunning range of his voice, soaring into the stratosphere in pristine detail as his soon-to-be-iconic Gospel background vocalists fleshed out each chorus, making for an intensely emotional number that managed to embody everything about the album’s aesthetic in one spectacular tune.

A Forgettable Follow-Up Surprisingly Enhances The Overall Experience

If I were to ask you what your favourite Sam Smith song was from his first album, you’d likely be able to name at least a handful of soothing ballads encompassing his general style, each providing their own aspect of relatability to listeners that made them memorable in some fashion despite nearly every track sharing a formulaic melodic structure. The song you most-definitely wouldn’t refer to, though, is the seldom-mentioned second single from In The Lonely Hour titled “Money On My Mind,” one of the only two tracks on the album that wasn’t a sappy ballad of utter heartbreak, instead opting for an outlandishly-frenetic beat meant to inspire jubilance in its listeners, unfortunately to no avail – This track had all the elements it needed to be a megahit, adopting a Breaks Beat style percussion groove with pounding piano chords that made you want to dance accompanied by searing vocal melodies about gettin’ that cheddar & living life to the fullest in youthful splendor, essentially conveying that Smith was capable of being more than just a one-note performer, but the actual execution of the track left so much to be desired from both a songwriting & studio mixing perspective; Its tonal balance between vocals & backing instrumentation was terribly off-kilter, applying a somewhat karaoke-level of reverb & dual-channel processing to Smith’s vocals whilst producing a dynamically-flat digital groove underneath, made all the more grating by Smith’s inability to command the number with the enthusiasm & aggression it needed to truly capture your attention, regrettably resulting in a track so forgettable I was literally surprised to hear it when I decided to revisit the album. In contrast, even a B-side joint such as “Like I Can” managed to illicit a stronger response from me over the years, an admittedly generic mainstream Pop song that was more memorable in every respect thanks to a driving piano chord progression, decidedly more expressive vocal melodies interesting enough to inspire weaker-willed listeners & a stunning sense of hopefulness that warms the heart, attempting the same narrative momentum as the former but doing so with its own unique identity you can actually get behind – Maybe this was a clear signifier that Sam Smith finds comfort in the melancholy & isn’t quite cut out for upbeat dance numbers, but surprisingly this revelation actually ends up improving the quality of the remaining tracks, supplying us with a low bar of expectations – one that’s admittedly still superior to the competition – which ultimately works to give his more bombastic vocal escapades that much more power in comparison, like an amuse-bouche designed to intensify the flavours of each subsequent course.

These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends

As so poignantly stated in William Shakespeare’s illustrious romantic tragedy of star-crossed lovers Romeo And Juliet & once again rendered relevant in HBO’s popular Sci-Fi series Westworld, ‘These violent delights have violent ends, and in their triumph die, like fire and powder; Which, as they kiss, consume,’ essentially proclaiming that all things of intense beauty & passion must inevitably succumb to their own magnificence in due time, too perfect to remain in this plane of existence – What does that have to do with Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour, you ask? To put it simply, Smith’s allure spawned from his unfathomable ability to tear our hearts right out from our chests whilst satisfying our melodic desires, but our ravenous consumption of his music quickly overtook such artistry as radio stations repeatedly blasted each charming number again & again, hour after hour, watering down the emotional impact of his arrangements so much so that our initial infatuation converted to vehement disdain as we were forced over & over to listen to such saddening tunes on a daily basis. The epitome of this overexposure is without a doubt Smith’s most recognizable number “Stay With Me,” gathering all of his iconic characteristic into one exceptionally-produced tune that reached peak-saturation far before its time, its captivating Gospel choruses, gloomy-yet-driving rhythmic momentum & delightfully soulful storyline genuinely appealing to virtually every demographic but regrettably suffering wholeheartedly to the mainstream marketing machine, getting shoved down our throats & ears so systematically that our love was corrupted beyond repair, turning to spite as quickly as a steady relationship can come undone if one party starts to show signs of weakness or wandering interests after years of devotion – I’m not saying in any way, shape or form that the track itself is unappealing to listen to, quite the contrary actually as it’s easily the most solid arrangement Smith has ever released, but too much of a good thing is just as damaging to a performer’s image as releasing a song that’s just straight-up bad, a concept that not only describes this song but the majority of In The Lonely Hour’s eerily-similar compositions, in turn destroying a lot of the album’s replayability as time continues to roll onward. Still, as it stands, Sam Smith’s debut album is a work of art that deserves every ounce of praise thrown its way, not only paving the way for LGBTQ+ performers to champion their ideals in a mainstream setting but allowing the entire music industry to pride themselves in actually feeling something again, reveling in sensitivity & stripping back the layers of egotistical presentation as to connect with their audiences on a deeper level – If we could just take a snapshot of this moment in time & appreciate it for what it is, rather than having to endure the lackluster mess that would be Smith’s follow-up album The Thrill Of It All, I’m sure we’d all gain a much brighter impression of him that would make returning to this record all the more pleasant.

2. Track List (10)

3. Official (10)

4. Live (8)

5. Featuring Remixes (7)

7. Similar Albums (1)

8. Similar Artists (17)

9. Album Info

About

In the Lonely Hour is the debut studio album by British singer Sam Smith. It was released in the United Kingdom on 26 May 2014, via Capitol UK and Method Records. In the United States, it was released on 17 June 2014 through Capitol Records America. The album includes the hit singles "Money on My Mind" and "Stay with Me", both of which were number one in the UK; the latter becoming a hit worldwide, peaking in the top ten in over 20 countries, including reaching number two in the US. The album's third hit single, "I'm Not the Only One", reached number three in the UK and number five in the US. A deluxe edition of the album contains five bonus tracks, including a solo acoustic version of Disclosure's single "Latch" and Naughty Boy's number-one single "La La La", on both of which Smith provided guest vocals.
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Songwriter

  • Sam Smith

Label

  • Capitol
  • Method

Producer

  • Jimmy Napes
  • Steve Fitzmaurice
  • Komi
  • Naughty Boy
  • Two Inch Punch
  • Eg White
  • Fraser T Smith