Sam Smith, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter from London who’s this close to becoming a superstar in the U.S., towers over his songs. His debut full-length In the Lonely Hour tends toward the sad and the slow, in either the milquetoast-soul style of Emeli Sandé or the chamber-folk fashion of Nick Drake. It has been suggested that Smith is the “new Adele,” but his overwrought vocal style is more like Christina Aguilera or Jessie J.
The guy has strong pipes that he uses in many ways (flutter, wail, thrust, swoop, bellow)…except to hold a consistent mood for a single bar most of the time. His interpretations of his own words sound aimless, and it makes for a jarring experience, given how polite and easy on the ears his backing tracks are. That discord is about as close to having an edge that Smith gets. “My debut album is just a diary from a lonely 21-year-old,” he recently told Digital Spy, and that’s exactly what it sounds like — mostly vague, lovelorn moping that varies only when Smith lapses into self-congratulation.
On the breakbeat-driven “Money on My Mind,” he describes his motivation for signing with Capitol, explaining, “I do it for the love.” So he’ll be donating this album’s proceeds to charity, then? “Stay With Me” is an anthem-sized refutation of hookup culture (“This ain’t love, it’s clear to see/ But darling, stay with me”). Smith, who recently came out, will have you know that he’s not one of those guys. Lonely Hour gives Smith too much space for indulgence — he’s best on dance-inflected tracks like the MOR disco of “Restart,” and Disclosure’s “Latch” (an inferior “acoustic” version appears as a bonus cut here). Young people need structure, and Sam Smith would benefit from some more of it.