Sam Smith
In the Lonely Hour


2.9
good

Review

by Will Robinson STAFF
June 21st, 2014 | 56 replies


Release Date: 06/17/2014 | Tracklist

Review Summary: This ain't love, it's clear to see.

For those of you who don’t listen to the radio on a regular basis (and judging by the abundance of metalheads on Sputnik, it’s likely that most of you don’t), the top 40 has started moving back in the direction of a rose-tinted affirmation that the past had some darn good music. The most obvious (and cringe-worthy) example is MKTO’s “Classic,” bearing the flag of pop’s “return to roots” with the subtlety of a sledgehammer and a proclivity towards slickly-produced arena-fillers worshipping at the feet of Adam Levine circa Hands All Over. The fact that we’re now considering MJ and Prince “classics” notwithstanding, the song’s popularity is a pretty good indicator that the Billboard charts have shifted violently away from Pitbull-addled EDM. You’ve still got the aftereffects of the trap boom, obviously (Jason Derulo’s nonsensical “Talk Dirty to Me” and the memetically-omnipresent “Turn Down for What” stand out), but also very present are the simplistic pop-reggae of “Rude,” seemingly straight out of the late ‘90s, the classically Latin-pop-guitar-driven “Am I Wrong,” and the the-’80s-called-and-they-want-Lionel-Richie-back ballad “All of Me” leading the way for the resurgence of ostensibly analog, instrument-driven music in the charts.

To preemptively counteract any critical accusations that the utter hollowness of such a move clearly demonstrates the music industry big guns are interested in profit over good music and are paving a path to their own destruction and yadda yadda yadda, the minor gods in control of the radio (and therefore America’s general musical taste) have decided to drop a Sam Smith song into the fray. “Stay With Me” has done a fine job of appeasing most of the music press, and for good reason: the boy with the golden voice bares himself to the cutting judgment of listeners internationally, whimpering pathetically (emphasis on the pathos here - this is not meant to be a criticism) about how fucked up he is in needing more love than what’s contained in the transitory one-night-stand he’s just had before dropping into one of the most gorgeous choruses this side of Justin Timberlake. It’s reasonably tragic - enough so that we can sympathize with his struggles as a young man in a cruel, cruel world, but not quite so much that we can’t actually enjoy the song while driving down the interstate.

If I sound a bit jaded here, it’s because my thoughts on this song are irrevocably colored by my thoughts on the rest of the album. Make no mistake - “Stay With Me” is one of the finest pop songs of the year. Sure, it’s sappy as hell, but it capitalizes on that sappiness (in large part thanks to Smith’s gorgeous voice, something I can’t stress enough here) to create a tune that’s almost celebratory in its misery. Why else would the melancholy major key sound so sweet? Why else would the gospel vocals come soaring in so prettily?

Taken in a vacuum, the song is pristine, crystalline, wonderful. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come packaged alone. Smith’s producers do too good of a job in masking the inevitably high-tech nature of the album, and as a result the songs almost sound too perfect. Again, in the case of “Stay With Me,” that’s perfectly fine - the song doesn’t try to veil itself in minimalism, and is all the better for it. Unfortunately, the bare-bones strings, pianos, and acoustic guitars which make up most of In the Lonely Hour are so well-mastered that Smith’s vulnerability - which comes across as relatively sincere when he’s at his best - feels like a facade. The potential intimacy of “Not in That Way” comes off as befuddlingly painted-on, edgeless and light on emotions, mostly thanks to too-clean guitar and reverberation. Similarly, any attempt at displaying a sincerely crushed-yet-hopeful tone on “Lay Me Down” fails when the piece takes a turn for the mass-produced Broadway ballad, destroying any traces of honest-to-goodness emotion and sincerity built up by the introduction.

In the Lonely Hour succeeds when it embraces the power and consequences of a major-label recording budget without losing Smith’s penchant for soul in the process. “Money on My Mind” sees Smith channeling the ravey pop-house killers on which he’s been featured (“Latch,” “La La La”) with a simple, effective piano riff and breakbeat pattern under his spiraling vocals, and it’s one of the clear standouts here. Unfortunately, such successes are few and far between, and whatever goodwill the best few songs build up is mostly wiped away by the schlocky strings of “Good Thing” and the painfully insipid chorus of “Leave Your Lover.” Smith’s obviously trying to pour himself out onto an MP3 file, but at times it feels as though he’s trying to express himself even when there’s nothing to say.

This is exactly why the album is as disappointing as it is. Part of what made Smith so alluring as a featured vocalist was that Disclosure and Naughty Boy had no pretenses of using standard instruments to fulfill with their songs. One of the reasons those two songs sounded so good, then, was because it was fascinating to hear Smith’s clearly untreated and quintessentially human voice over a chorus that would be impossible to recreate without synthesizers, samplers, or computers. In the Lonely Hour is a step back from that dichotomy: Smith, in trying to move towards a more familiar and vivid sound, ended up with the things that killed that authenticity. Overproduction, inconsistent insights into his own psyche, and most of all the clean, whitewashed sound we ended up with instead of a Sam Smith sound (whatever that would mean for him) demolished the soul we looked for so desperately here. In the Lonely Hour is less meaningless and vapid than a song as unapologetically hammy as “Classic,” but the result is unfortunately the same.



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2.6
average
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Brostep
Staff Reviewer
June 21st 2014


3488 Comments

Album Rating: 2.9

tl;dr fuck insomnia

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
June 21st 2014


16785 Comments


I heard a few songs off of this and it sounded way too gospely/souly for my liking.

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Brostep
Staff Reviewer
June 21st 2014


3488 Comments

Album Rating: 2.9

I generally love gospel-soul-ish-type stuff but this is just not the best example of that style

someguest
June 21st 2014


21200 Comments


dude looks like he cries himself to sleep every night

Lucid
Contributing Reviewer
June 21st 2014


7026 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

but "stay with me" has that cringey choir-backed chorus. it's definitely not better than the rest of the album

808muzik
June 21st 2014


968 Comments


snoooooze

Digging: Ryan Hemsworth - Alone For The First Time

Brostep
Staff Reviewer
June 21st 2014


3488 Comments

Album Rating: 2.9

nah personally the choir backed chorus is great but that's just me

fish.
Contributing Reviewer
June 21st 2014


22034 Comments


there was so much build up to the release of the lead single off this but it feels forced, as does its success

Digging: Azealia Banks - Broke With Expensive Taste

henryChinaski
June 21st 2014


2833 Comments


This guy. That Money On My Mind song was actually not bad.

Digging: Pianos Become the Teeth - Keep You

Tulten
June 21st 2014


10 Comments


That was a great review, man. You had some nice commentary on the current climate of popular music and managed to explore the relationship of studio production with music without resorting to preaching lo-fi black metal or something. Most importantly, you expressed a very nuanced view of your subject that acknowledges the good and the bad in a non-hyperbolic manner. Nice job.

ExplosiveOranges
June 21st 2014


3623 Comments


Nice review, mate. Mindpos.

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Mort.
June 21st 2014


3960 Comments


great review, interesting read

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SPRFanOf5H
June 21st 2014


248 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Haha you put out the MKTO track on this, pretty cool and somebody aside from me actually pays attention to the Top 40! First paragraph was pretty funny.

Awesome review Will, much more polished than my review of this album.

Brostep
Staff Reviewer
June 21st 2014


3488 Comments

Album Rating: 2.9

My iPod's dying and doesn't play music half the time so I've been listening to the radio a fair bit recently. It's not all bad (better than the pop country my brother puts on) but in terms of satisfactory listens the songs are usually not quite there. Problem rules though

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
June 21st 2014


28776 Comments


haha is this that shit in the credits of edge of tomoro?

casualcore

Rawben
June 21st 2014


178 Comments


I've only heard Stay With Me, but this review is incredibly well written. Well done.
#BecauseYouNeededMeToTellYouThat
#UselessHashtags

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
June 21st 2014


28776 Comments


i have never heard of anything referenced in the first paragraph... i thought that, last i read, the top 40 was being run by really awesome shit like iggy azalea and charli xcx and paramore and turn down for what...

Green Baron
June 21st 2014


20236 Comments


http://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-100

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
June 21st 2014


28776 Comments


yea so theres some good shit peppered in there i think right

also: didnt that john legend song come out ages ago

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
June 21st 2014


28776 Comments


also: is the new mastodon album named after the 3 doors down song?



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