Review Summary: You must think that I’m new to this / But I have seen this all beforeThe Thrill Of It All
is not a revelation. It’s just another helping of Smith’s pleasant-yet-neutered “Grammy bait” style of pop, forged in some alternate universe where the xx are the Nirvana of their time and Spandau Ballet is considered classical. Any newer, more interesting tricks up Smith’s sleeve - like the processed vocal harmonies in “Say It First” or “One Last Song” - are stifled by the same soft piano shtick and reverby guitars that dominated In The Lonely Hour
three years ago. Without the unfocused dabbling in naive dance-pop on tracks like “Money On My Mind,” Smith sounds more confident in both his voice and persona, but his quivers have less arrows in them the second time around, and it shows in his lyrical vagueness - especially with the overdone “love as fire” motif. There’s not a lot to say about narrow introspection as textbook as “So I pick up the pieces / I get on the midnight train”; the stakes are simultaneously non-existent and all-consuming to Smith, and it doesn’t necessarily translate well. All these little contradictions only build up to the album’s defining paradox: being an assortment of tracks confident enough to assert a fitting musical identity for Smith, yet not confident enough to prod at its own boundaries.
The most frustrating thing is Smith has always acknowledged the subversive potential of his songwriting; cuts like “HIM” and “Pray” overcome the gospel overload because of their subject matter, deftly covering spirituality without organised religion and ruminating on Smith’s equal love for God and men through subtle wordplay. His ear for hooks is in full effect as well, with the alluringly whispery verses of “Too Good For Goodbyes” setting an understated groove into every line. Nonetheless, if “One Last Song” or “Baby You Drive Me Crazy” are anything to go by, an almost unhealthy refusal to let go of the past, both musically and lyrically, undermines Smith’s evolution far too much to be ignored. In the end, this obsession is both the most integral - and most damaging - aspect of Smith’s reputation. In a year of poptimism and pop trash unified by ambitious desires for experimentation, Smith’s brand of melodrama is oddly content with pissing in the wind. It’s complacent. It’s competent and it’s functional and it exists
. And there’s nothing wrong with an album of comforting, soulful pop music that doesn’t want to think about the future. It’s just that Smith, given his character, might be the wrong person at the wrong time for it.