in-the-lonely-hour-reviewSam Smith – In The Lonely Hour
Capitol Records; 2014
Day & A Dream Rating: 4.5 out of 5
BUY: iTunes
I’m breaking an unspoken yet very understood rule when it comes to Sam Smith’s much-anticipated debut LP. It’s the same rule that should all but have been a warning that Smith – were he more considerate of his listeners and their emotions – included in the album’s liner notes: “do not listen to this album past 2 AM if you’re single or fresh out of a break-up.”

Yet here I am.

There’s a reason Smith’s album is entitled In The Lonely Hour – it’s meant to be enjoyed in the times where you don’t have to be held accountable for your actions, whether those actions are sending that “you up” text in the twilight hours or using brown liquor as a pain medication for memories and regret. That said, you can’t go wrong listening to it while the sun is still out.

Smith, a relative unknown up until last fall when he scene stole on Disclosure’s “Latch” single and shortly after propelled himself into consideration with his infectious “Stay With Me” song, has to know that the expectations are high for those who have been following him. To his credit, he’s armed with the kind of voice that embodies emotion and heart (or heartbreak), the kind of voice that resonates with any listener who gives him a chance.

It’s Smith’s voice even more than his storytelling that takes center stage on In The Lonely Hour, a half-hour’s journey through ten tracks (or fifteen, if you cop either of the LP’s deluxe editions). Each track on the album has its own distinct sound, from the slightly trippy, almost Timberland-esque “Money on My Mind,” to the blues-inspired finger-snapping “I’m Not the Only One.” “Life Support” is one Weeknd-feature away from being late night radio listening and all but sounds produced by someone in the OVO camp. But Sam avoids the pitfall that many R&B and soul singers land in these days – he refuses to allow solid instrumentals drown out or overshadow his voice. Instrumental breaks follow Smith’s crooning rather than interrupt them, or they’re kept to a minimal so that we can truly appreciate his harmonizing, especially alongside his trusty acoustic guitar.

However, heartbreak is the muse that fuels In The Lonely Hour, and it’s tough not to find yourself wrapped up in your emotions on given tracks. “Leave Your Lover” is full of angst and longing, with Sam not only pleading but all but desperately demanding from the bottom of his heart, for the object of his affection to “pack up and leave everything/ don’t you see what I can bring?!” “Not in That Way” embodies what a one-way ticket to the friend zone would be like were it sung aloud. And the standard edition closer, “Lay Me Down” – unsurprisingly the longest track on the album – is four minutes of Smith summoning gospel as he begs to lay by his lover’s side and promises never to hurt them. The deluxe edition is worth copping for Smith’s solo acoustic cover of “Latch” alone, on which his voice flourishes from start to finish.

In the end, In The Lonely Hour feels like it’s longer than it is. Perhaps that’s because in one LP, Sam Smith manages to touch an array of emotions, reminding us that old feelings and moments never really go away, but linger long after the song and dance has ended. It’s powerful, affecting, and without question, one of the best R&B offerings of the last five years… and a sure-fire front-runner for any Album of the Year considerations.