By Scott T. Sterling
With The Thrill of It All, Sam Smith goes back to the future and finds the soul of his new album.
On the long-awaited follow-up to his smash 2014 debut, In the Lonely Hour, Smith has unearthed inspiration in classic sounds from the past, mining ’50s and ‘60s R&B, gospel and Motown for arrangements and textures displayed across the new full-length. Given his powerful vocals, referencing the building blocks of his music is a wise and fruitful move.
In addition to the retro leanings, the new album also shows that Smith can still slay a simple ballad, wringing deep, palpable emotions from the most minimal arrangements with his voice.
Most surprising of all, a couple of tracks even showcase moments that recall (wait for it) Radiohead.
The Thrill of It All is packed with highlights, remaining engaging throughout the 10 tracks (14 on the special edition) with strong songwriting and passionate performances.
Smith’s heart is splayed all over the lyrically intimate album, sharing moments of heartbreak and remorse that can be readily felt between the music’s grooves.
Here are our five favorite songs on Sam Smith’s The Thrill of It All:
This nostalgic track hearkens back to early ’60s R&B, matching a vibrato guitar line with warm Motown horns. Smith’s soaring voice supported by old-school backing vocals augment the song’s timeless vibe. It also reminds some listeners of Radiohead’s “Creep.”
This song oozes with that classic Sam Smith, his emotive vocals wrapped around a piano melody as he sings about a brutal breakup that left him smoking packs of cigarettes a day.
“Baby, You Make Me Crazy”
This jaunty track digs up more ‘60s Motown vibes, with Smith getting over a breakup with a fun night out dancing with his friends. A big, brassy horn section and gospel chorus power this feel-good track.
This quiet ballad marries Smith’s voice to a sparse guitar melody. The song displays an unexpected Radiohead feeling with a mournful falsetto chorus not unlike some of Thom Yorke and company’s quieter moments.
This Timbaland production encapsulates the spirit of The Thrill of All. Driven by Smith’s control over his powerhouse voice matched with a gospel choir and orchestral swells, “Pray” is genuine show-stopping number that’s sure to bring the house down in concert. Much like “Too Good at Goodbyes,” it showcases the distinctive niche Smith has carved for himself in the pop landscape.
“Pray” contains explicit lyrics.