Written by: Kitty Modell-Rosen
Last week, 2014’s breakout singer/songwriter Sam Smith released his long awaited sophomore album The Thrill of It All. Smith has certainly outdone himself, stripping much of this release’s songs down to just his powerful vocals, a simple piano and when necessary, a gospel choir to add layers of strength and spirituality to his already angelic voice.
The album’s first track, “Too Good At Goodbyes” served as the album’s lead single and ushered in this new era of music for Smith and his patient fanbase. The first half of the song finds Smith accompanied by just a subtle piano playing the simplest chords, joined by finger-snapping. As emotions build and tensions rise, a beat kicks in and eventually Smith is flanked by a gospel choir, echoing his verses to the heavens.
On “HIM”, Smith tells the beautiful story of a young boy coming out to the most important men in his life – his father, and the “Holy Father”, God. Outlined within the song’s lyrics is a boy standing up for the love he holds for another boy, as well as the love he insists he deserves from God and his father despite this supposed religious transgression in the form of engaging in a homosexual relationship. The track is empowering, and brings chills to the spine when the gospel choir joins Smith, adding another layer to the religious battle the boy is fighting.
“Midnight Train” takes a somber note and flips the perspective to Smith making the painful decision to break a lover’s heart this time, as opposed to allowing his heart to be broken as he usually does. The track takes on a Doo-Wop-esque feeling and sound at the chorus, as Smith contemplates whether he is a “monster” for making the selfish decision to put himself before his now ex-boyfriend, what his lover’s family will think of him for leaving and how to put into words why he must depart for good.
The Timbaland-produced “Pray” served as an additional promotional release for the album, and was inspired by the time Smith spent in Iraq with the charity War Child. The song’s opening fools the listener into thinking the song will be upbeat, when in reality, it openly and emotionally details Smith’s naiveté regarding the state of the world – citing a lack of completed education, his young age, his ignoring of the news and having turned away from religion. By the end of the track, Smith concludes that despite all of this, we all end up praying, at one point or another, for a “glimmer of hope” in the darkness of our current world.
Additionally of note is “Scars”, exclusively available as one of the album’s special edition bonus tracks. Serving as a kind of dual letter to his mother and father in response to their divorce, “Scars” is poetic, heartwarming and heartbreaking, all in the span of three minutes. Smith sings that his parents’ newfound happiness without each other as husband and wife, as well as their assistance and guidance to their children through that tough time, has healed his metaphorical scars.
Smith’s debut release In the Lonely Hour is nothing when in the shadow of this powerful and emotional sophomore release. As a whole, The Thrill of It All is hauntingly raw and real, as Smith reveals to his listeners – layer by layer, track by track – how heartbreak of all kinds has affected him and culminated in this painfully honest collection of ballads.