Thrill of It All
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Referring to In the Lonely Hour as a massive success would not be hyperbolic. Each one of its four singles reached the Top Ten in Sam Smith's native U.K. As the album racked up multi-platinum certifications, Smith collected four Grammys. The momentum continued with "Writing's on the Wall," the first James Bond theme to top the U.K. chart and subsequently an Oscar winner. Smith's 2017 follow-up arrived a little over three years after the debut. It refines the M.O. of "Stay with Me" and "I'm Not the Only One," as it's stacked from floor to ceiling with ballads, and informed by vintage Southern soul and gospel, all distinguished with Smith's fraught, lump-in-throat outpourings. It wouldn't be a shock to learn that the singer finished each performance by either crawling back to bed or collapsing in the vocal booth. For that, The Thrill of It All -- an album that begins with "You must think that I'm stupid" and lifts in mood rarely and only slightly at that -- is an odd title. ("The Thrill of It All" itself doesn't appear on the album's standard edition, and is another griever, all remorseful pain, no pleasure.) Like "Stay with Me" and "I'm Not the Only One," these songs feature co-production from Jimmy Napes and Steve Fitzmaurice, who typically work in tandem, and in a few instances are assisted by the Dap-Kings Horns and several background vocalists who mitigate the misery. On "Baby, You Make Me Crazy," the horn section helps lend a rare moment of uplift, where Smith delights in thinking of listening to his favorite music to drown out the sorrow. The connections to the South extend to highlight "No Peace," a duet with Arkansas native and poised powerhouse Yebba Smith. More importantly, there's "Him," a moment of admission and proud defiance: "I walk the streets of Mississippi/I hold my lover by the hand/I feel you staring when he is with me." Additional songwriters and producers, including but not limited to Timbaland, Stargate, Emile Haynie, and Malay, contribute to one or two songs each, but this album maintains a consistency and intensity that places it slightly above the debut. [The Thrill of It All was also released in a vinyl LP edition including a digital download code.] ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi