If any male vocalist could possibly claim to be the current pretender to Adele’s throne, then Sam Smith is surely the prize candidate. His debut album, In The Lonely Hour, was released on 26 May 2014 and has transformed the softly spoken British singer-songwriter into a global megastar. Smith first came to our attention on Disclosure’s 2012 single ‘Latch’, but it was his performance on Naughty Boy’s ‘La La La’, which powered the song to the top of the UK charts in May 2013, that became his first signature track. It had followed Smith’s first solo single, ‘Lay Me Down’, but that effort failed to break the all-important UK Top 40 – even though, over time, it has become better appreciated as a highlight of Smith’s 10-track debut album.
Listen to In The Lonely Hour right now.
In The Lonely Hour was the second best-selling British album in 2014 and ended up the third best-selling album in the US after its third single, ‘Stay With Me’, topped the UK charts and made it all the way to No.2 stateside. The secret to Smith’s success was not dissimilar to Adele’s: strong songs powered by an incredible voice drenched in the personality of the performer. While second single, ‘Money On My Mind’, had been built around a distinctive dance hook, Sam’s fragile machismo was played up to the hilt for the album’s true breakthrough hit. A tender ballad, ‘Stay With Me’ became his best-performing international song and was, significantly, the first to be picked up by the influential adult contemporary radio stations in the States.
The vulnerability that Smith chose to showcase resonated with a public who seized on his confirmation that the record had been in part shaped by a broken heart. In a welcome sign of the times, Smith’s sexuality didn’t define the project, and the songs’ rallying themes of love and loss crossed genres and generations. Nominated at the 2014 MOBO Awards for Best Album, Sam won that category and added three further successes to his evening – Best Male, Best R&B/Soul Act and Best Song, for ‘Stay With Me’. The Grammys followed suit, and six nominations led to four awards, including Song Of The Year, once again for ‘Stay With Me’. Brits glory inevitably followed in February 2015, a few weeks after the album shifted its millionth copy in the UK.
A later reissue of In The Lonely Hour – titled the Drowning Shadows Edition – added 13 tracks, including duets with John Legend, A$AP Rocky and one of Smith’s heroes, Mary J Blige. R&B divas have truly shaped Sam’s musical direction, and he’s not afraid to tackle tracks associated with powerful performances from women. His cut of the Amy Winehouse classic ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ is another standout on the reissued release, along with a slowed-down version of Whitney Houston’s ‘How Will I Know’.
To date, Smith has only released another Disclosure duet and the small matter of a Bond theme since his staggeringly successful debut. That theme, ‘Writing’s On The Wall’, was the first 007 track to top the British singles chart when it peaked in September 2015.
Like all good showmen, he understands the impact of timing. Careful to avoid overexposure, Smith remains strangely omnipresent; his songs are still being played on the radio, but he’s cautious about flooding the market with too much material. Last time, he opened up his heart on a very special record but, odds on, he’ll keep us guessing until about his next big reveal.
In The Lonely Hour can be bought here.