In the Lonely Hour

In the Lonely Hour

Sam Smith once described their 2014 debut album, In the Lonely Hour, in a single word: sad. Their characterization is understandable. A chronicle of Smith’s experiences harboring a secret and torturous unrequited love, In the Lonely Hour is a tear-stained portrait of the singer’s hurt, desperation, and enduring loneliness. It’s also surprisingly sedate, considering Smith’s musical past: They’d made a name for themself through guest appearances on dance hits by Disclosure and Naughty Boy. Even In the Lonely Hour’s second single, “Money On My Mind,” was driven by a drum ’n’ bass beat, house pianos, and whirring electronics. But for much of In the Lonely Hour, it’s clear Smith wasn’t ready to find solace on the dance floor. Instead, this is a record made up primarily of sweeping ballads and richly produced neo-soul, one that unspools like a late-night confessional. Clearly a hopeless romantic, they construct their one-sided affection on In the Lonely Hour as if it were a great love story. Songs like “Lay Me Down,” “Like I Can,” and the gospel-inflected single “Stay With Me” feature swooning string sections, joyful choirs, and saccharine choruses that expand with love. Smith even allows themself to indulge in the romantic fantasy of their affections (“Life Support”), going as far as to imagine a future where a potential relationship is soured by infidelity (“I’m Not the Only One”). But chilly reality is never far from view and it pierces through Smith’s reverie like an intrusive thought: “This ain’t love, it’s clear to see,” they admit on “Stay With Me.” Secrecy and the fear of rejection haunt In the Lonely Hour. On “Good Thing,” Smith has to imagine themself being mugged in order for the object of their affection to love them back. “Not In That Way,” meanwhile, finds them confessing that, deep down, they know their love is not reciprocated (“I’m certain I know what you’d say”). It all explodes on “I’ve Told You Now,” which arrives around the album’s mid-point. “Why do you think I come ’round here on my free will?/Wasting all my precious time,” they cry with exasperation over stabs of pianos—only to retreat into guilt over their confession: “Although I try my best, I still let down the team.” Still, Smith’s unabashed lyrics and adept sense of storytelling prevent In the Lonely Hour from becoming overly maudlin—as do their almost otherworldly vocal powers. After all, it’s impossible to drown in all Smith’s sadness when they sound so cherubic and assured. It’s this magic combination that’s helped ensure their rightful position as one of their generation’s defining voices.

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