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Sam Smith’s “The Thrill of It All” Finds Solace in Playing It Safe

Although 'The Thrill of It All' highlights Smith's vocal strength, the album lacks versatility and uniqueness. PHOTO/ www.genius.com
Although ‘The Thrill of It All’ highlights Smith’s vocal strength, the album lacks versatility and uniqueness. PHOTO/ www.genius.com

By Jamie Deliz

Published: November 15th, 2017

If “The Thrill of It All” is supposed to be Sam Smith’s comeback album, then he should’ve pushed himself just an inch further.

Smith, in essence, defines love in his own way, while also embodying this newfound strength to move on from heartbreak, proven in songs like “Midnight Train” and “One Last Song.” Although beauty runs through each track, he doesn’t quite capture versatility and uniqueness, making the album fall short of perfection. 

Compared to his flawlessly composed debut album “In The Lonely Hour,” however, which consisted of heartfelt ballads and dance numbers (“Make It To Me” and “Money On My Mind”), his second studio album lacks direction, or possibly has the wrong kind of direction, with the second half of the album sounding pretty much the same, notably the final three tracks “The Thrill of It All,” “Scars,” and “One Day At A Time,” and the album’s gospel-influenced sounds.

“Too Good At Goodbyes,” his hit first single off the album, is epic, but can pass as the younger sibling of “Stay With Me,” especially with the choir-enhancing the chorus. Yet, it’s a powerful and beautiful song about being immune to heartbreak. That kind of honesty can be appreciated, and it works as a first single. 

What we all should applaud are his vocal improvements. “Pray,” produced by Timbaland, highlights his outstanding vocal range and control, one of the few moments we feel genuine emotion, but that can also be said about “Nothing Left for You” and “Palace.”

But what his vocals can’t mask is the lack of features on the album. “The Thrill of It All” hosts only one feature, artist YEBBA, in the song “No Peace.” While it is a pretty track, Smith, who is capable of so much more, unfortunately aims for comfort. Both artists’ sounds are reminiscent of each other’s. Say he featured artists like SZA, Sia, and even Adele, as well; the album would have some kind of variety and unique flair. It may even stir excitement for fans if the two British powerhouses, who are often compared to one another in terms of songwriting and style, were to ever come together. Not only that, but considering his hiatus, duets with big-name artists would’ve been smart on his part. Playing it safe surely didn’t work to his advantage.

When it comes to songwriting, “HIM,” lyrically, is extremely powerful in terms of symbolism—and it’s one of the best songs on the album. A play-on-words for “hymn,” Smith conjures up different meanings.  From a religious stand-point, he dives into the topic of his sexuality: “Holy father/ judge my sins/I’m not afraid of what they will bring/ I’m not the boy you thought you wanted/ I love him.” While romantically, he could also be confessing about a complicated love. His raw conflictions and thought-provoking lyricism is constructed so beautifully. However, it’s a slap in the face when accompanied by amateur lyrics such as, “So I light up a cigarette/ I drink it down till there’s nothing left,” (“No Peace”), and it makes the album sound generic. Might as well have mentioned James Dean in the song, too. 

One song that truly captures the “thrill” is “Say It First,” but more so in its production. Smith begs his lover to tell him that he loves him before he himself does, and this kind of anticipation that builds up into the chorus is palpable. “Burning” is the fall.

Oh, but it’s “Baby, You Make Me Crazy” that is the album’s saving grace. It’s upbeat, but at the same time, it’s a song about a breakup. It mirrors an old-Sam Smith anthem, and it’s one of those songs that truly stands out on its own. One song like this is enough to remind us of his earlier days—not four.

Overall, “The Thrill of It All” is so in-touch with Smith’s emotions; yet, it fails to push the envelope, at least for those who want something new from him.

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