Reviewing the deluxe version, because the standard is too short:
It's hard to get in the head of an artist, but easy to pretend that you can. Because of this though, you can get the perception that something is amiss when things don't turn out as expected/hoped.
Take...how about Sam Smith for instance. An artist that, assuming you missed the failed career launch some years back, was introduced to most via collaborations with Disclosure & Naughty Boy, two garage tracks that were good on their own, but ascended by what Sam brought to the table. The obvious thing is to think, 'hey, we've got someone to watch here'.
I think the first single I heard from this album was "Money On My Mind", which I didn't take to quite as much as those tracks, but it's one that still has a bit of that garage-step sound, which is what lifts it up (not to discredit Sam though, as he shines through with some pretty strong vocal moments too).
From there it went a bit downhill and the reality came to be revealed. The whole thing is just full of low tempo ballads. "Stay With Me" and "Not In That Way" probably being the nadir of the lot.
It does get me thinking though, he claims that he does it for the love, which is a fair enough statement, but this year he's been pushed so heavily by his label, as if the music industry is desperate to make sure everyone hears these non-ground-breaking tunes. I mean, obviously there's a market for it, but when you've got a platform to be heard, why would you want to be one of the ones that crowds out the potentially worthwhile voices, to put your unrewarding drivel in everyone's faces...now why does THAT sound familiar?
Which is why it's a good thing (no pun intended) that Sam hasn't quite sunk to that level. I mean, I came into this without high hopes, but I came out rather surprised. It is after all exactly as advertised, a relentless run of ballads that doesn't stop until you hit "Restart" (on the Deluxe Edition anyway). It's all generally on the topic of love, but it's hardly ever painted with a good picture. Threads of deceit, unfulfilled promises and envy are all over it.
"Stay With Me" really is what scared me off initially, I mean, the big hit single is just plain, what hope does the rest have?! As it turns out, he really does have a knack for melody which keeps me from getting bored. "Good Thing", "I'm Not The Only One" & "Like I Can" have it nailed and stand out as highlights for me, though in "Good Thing"'s case, it equally buoyed by the stripped back vibe. It's like an acoustic setting for a generally bigger sounder track, but I'm glad it's kept as it is.
If I'm being honest though, Sam doesn't come across as overly likeable through the course of this album. Maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise from someone who has rich parents to thank for his career pushing through, but he just sounds so whiny & demanding. Striving for attention, romance, and generally for things to go his way without much consideration for anyone else's perspectives, he's basically Veruca Salt. In "Not In That Way", he's particularly bothersome, where, after having constantly demanded that everyone consider how he feels, goes on to say "You will never know that feeling", and yet just a couple lines later, says that "[he]'d never ask you, 'cause deep down [he's] certain what you'd say". It's just really offputting for me.
Towards the end of the album, things start to get a bit more interesting. "Lay Me Down" starts off pretty standard, but towards the end, adopts some really effective orchestration. Then you get "Restart" which is the one anomaly on the whole album. An upbeat disco track from Sam Smith?! Sure why not? The 'experimentation' near the end of the track seems like a misguided attempt at filling out the track, which keeps it from being a real favourite of mine.
I do kind of wish the album ended at that though, because after that, you get the less than essential acoustic "Latch". A top tune in its original form, but here, it really shows where Sam went wrong on this album, as the hook feels far too restrained, taking away what was a real highlight on the original track. After that is "La La La", which is still a good track, but feels a bit too old for this; I always have a problem when tracks that don't feel tied to the album era end up on it, or basically when they're 9+ months old and have worn out their freshness. The final impression is "Make It To Me", which is back to the standard template of the album, and it doesn't really lift to a rewarding standard.
Overall though, I think the positives outweigh the negatives. Sam clearly has some talent, and though I'm not entirely sure he's putting it to the best use, it hasn't been totally squandered here. I know he has it in him to go for something more bold, so I hope that now that he has a big audience available to reach to, that next time around we get something more exciting. 3.9