The Thrill of it All, Sam Smith’s new album, was released on November 3. His sophomore record is a fourteen-track, forty-nine-minute journey through one of Smith’s favorite topics: heartbreak. As with his first album In the Lonely Hour, The Thrill of it All first and foremost features Smith’s voice, forgoing the electronic beats and synthesizers popular in music today. Smith is accompanied by a piano and supported by a choir, creating a lush soundscape in which he cries. His lyrics are sad, self-pitying, and melancholic, and his melodies both predictable in their tone color and astonishing in their virtuosity.
While the overall color and feel of his two albums might feel very similar, the way in which Smith deals with his subject matter is very different. In the Lonely Hour was very much a record of self-reflection. His songs were about Smith and his own experiences, his own feelings, his own loneliness. While this is holds partly true in The Thrill of it All, Smith expands his definition of heartbreak: he still sings about pining after an unrequited love and losing a love, but also addresses issues of acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and feeling hopeless in regards to current events and disasters.
For example, in Smith’s song “HIM”, Smith tells the fictional yet relatable story of a young boy from Mississippi coming out to his father. He sings both to his biological father and his “Holy Father,” which might be assumed to be God because of Smith’s strong Catholic background. This song is especially important in this album because in In the Lonely Hour, Smith was very careful not use any pronouns when speaking about another person. He wanted to be known as “Sam Smith the singer who happens to be gay” and not “Sam Smith the gay singer.”
In a New York Times profile published two days before the release of Smith’s album, Taffy Brodesser-Akner writes that
“He [Smith] realized two things. One was that he was ready to make a second album. The other thing was that coming out as gay wasn’t enough. He now understood that every visible gay person still had a leadership role. He now understood that he wasn’t operating on his own, but that he lived in context to a community whether he’d realized it or not. No, having come out as a gay singer, he realized it was now time to come out as a gay man.”
This realization that he, as a public figure, had an important voice and a responsibility to use it is present through the whole album. His songs are still catchy and relatable; his first single “Too Good at Goodbyes” is reminiscent of “Stay With Me” and “I’m Not the Only One.” However, his goal on this album seems to be to reveal his own personal feelings in his work rather than create work to fit a generic, sad-pop-ballad mold. That realization is a solid step forward for Sam Smith, and allowed him to create a decent sophomore album. His sound may be the same, but it is on the road to change and ultimately growth.