Genuine question: How self-aware is Sam Smith? The promotional campaign makes us think there isn’t a bigger plank in the business, but some of these moves seem far too obvious for it to be unplanned.
Case in point? Calling an album The Thrill Of It All when his genre is resolutely anything but. Going for an Art Attack-head cover that seems at odds with any genuine emotion and comes across a bit gormless instead. Oh, and of course there’s the endless wringing of emotion across this new record that is apparently born from the pain of a, er, five-month relationship.
To the outsider, Sam Smith peddles superficial emotion. It’s packaged in slick production, wrapped in gospel choirs, and makes very pointed vocal manoeuvres. But the thing is, Sam Smith himself actually believes every word he sings. He believes his love may have been the greatest one to ever have existed, he believes on Say It First that there’s a chance it might all be in his head.
Yet something doesn’t quite connect with all of these songs, because there’s also a strong case for Sam Smith believing his own hype. There’s a concerted effort to favour belted melodies over nuanced strokes of emotion (for example on both Midnight Train and Burning), and it’s that confidence in his own commercial viability that often leads Smith to forego actual enunciation for a series of pained notes. Put it this way, it’d be pretty easy to parody from this point on.
“Maybe one day I won’t sing about you,” he says on the needlessly-overwrought One Last Song, before adding: “I’ll sing a song about someone new.” But the thing with Sam Smith is that no matter who his songs are about, they’ll all ring with the same hollow truth, in the same warbled timbre, and the same factory-line emotion. It is exhausting, and nowhere near the male Adele he aspires to be; truth be told, if Sam Smith did sing about someone new then he’d lose his old schtick, and it seems very clear from this record that this is a risk he’s 100% not willing to take.