Sam Smith - In the Lonely Hour_cover

Most albums these days come with a “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” sticker attached to the cover. Sam Smith’s debut LP, In The Lonely Hour, should have had an “In Your Feelings Advisory: Don’t Press Send at 2 AM Content” warning label.

Some might say 2014 had a down year in terms of R&B/soul offerings; and I would respectfully disagree. Some of the year’s more noteworthy releases on the R&B end, in fact, came in the form of indie-released EPs as opposed to big names backed by bigger labels. But the very best in R&B and soul this year came from Smith, an unproven Londoner who went from across the pond darling to “this boy can SAAAAAAAAANG” worldwide sensation in a single song (“Stay With Me”). Rather than underwhelming by its lead single’s star power, however, In The Lonely Hour built on the strength of “Stay With Me” and created one of the most complete projects in any genre in ’14.

By itself Sam Smith’s voice is dangerous enough. Look no further than “Leave Your Lover,” where Smith croons his heart out to someone who’s already spoken for and just barely avoids dirty mackin’ as he expresses his desire. But with an acoustic guitar playing his backup, Sam Smith is damn near unstoppable. That guitar allows Sam to flourish on tracks like “Not The Only One,” a call-your-lover-on-their-bullshit anthem where Sam sees through the smoke and mirrors and manages to express regret and sorrow in the same breath (“Your heart is unobtainable/ though Lord knows you kept mine”).

In The Lonely Hour is also amazing because of the way it genre-blends even while staying true to Smith’s soul roots. “I’ve Told You Now” contains elements of country. “Money on My Mind” deceptively sets an upbeat tone for the rest of the album, employing electronica-like echoes and hard-driving drums. And “Restart” is clearly lifted from Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall days; indeed, it’s hard not to imagine what a “Restart (Remix)” might sound like with Smith and Mike united on one track.

But where In The Lonely Hour really succeeds, is in making its listeners feel every single emotion that Smith shoots for on every track. It’s not always about feeling “lonely.” Sometimes it’s about the longing,too (“Lay Me Down”). Others, it’s about setting the record straight (“Not in That Way”).

It can’t be coincidental that Smith chose “Money on My Mind” as his debut LP’s intro track. On the song’s hook, the singer insists, “I don’t have money on my mind – I do it, I do it for the love.” That’s what had been missing. There were so many R&B thugs, so many singers devoting melodies to money and cars and sex and “the game” over the last few years. In The Lonely Hour took soul music back to the heart of the matter – that is, matters of the heart. American audiences may have gotten him a little later than everyone else; but that’s okay because the truth is, Sam Smith arrived right on time.