Sam Smith’s 2012 collaboration with British electronic music duo Disclosure, “Latch,” caught the eye of Capitol Records president Nick Raphael (who signed him), and became an international dance-floor hit. But it turns out that song was something of an anomaly: Smith’s debut album, In the Lonely Hour, is all-classic, blue-eyed power-ballad soul.
In some ways, the nature of In the Lonely Hour isn’t that surprising. Smith has ably covered Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra songs in the past, and the cover he released last week of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” is currently ricocheting across the internet. There’s no doubt about it: The boy can sing. In the Lonely Hour beautifully showcases the British singer-songwriter’s admittedly stunning vocal range. Unfortunately, that’s just about all it does.
For forty-seven minutes, Smith sings with emotion, sometimes huskily, sometimes in falsetto, about unrequited love. His plainspoken lyrics drip with sincerity. (How much you appreciate unadorned sincerity in your songwriting will dictate how much they resonate with you.) To its credit, In the Lonely Hour is somewhat refreshing in that it in no way attempts to be modern. With the exception of a few orchestral touches, the instrumentation can barely be heard; it’s certainly not relevant. And Smith has said as much in interviews: He wants his music to be about his voice.
The result is that In the Lonely Hour feels a bit lacking. There’s no oomph. There are no surprises or quirks. Which is all to say: It’s boring. Smith’s vocals are a lot more interesting to listen to when they’re juxtaposed against a beat with nuance, like on the bonus track “Restart.” (Capitol Records)