By Randy Wagstaff
I first heard Disclosure‘s “Latch” playing at a party. A friend was showing me the single’s music video; the topic of conversation, I believe, was sex music, and this is undoudebtly what the video concerns itself with. From that moment, I consciously associated “Latch” with sexual tension, or the release of it, but there was always something more to Sam Smith‘s vocals: a profound desperation. “I feel we’re close enough, I wanna lock in your love,” Smith starts building on the bridge, but by the time he hits the chorus (“Now I’ve got you in my space, I won’t let go of you”) the mood blends from flirtation to agony, and his vocals transition from the stylings of a seasoned Vegas crooner to those of a young eagle forming a feverish mating call.
“I’ve never been in a relationship before. I’ve only been in unrequited relationships where people haven’t loved me back,” Smith recently confessed to Fader. Many artists tend to write what they know, and Smith is at his best on In The Lonely Hour when he’s doing just that. The album is sandwiched by radio-friendly singles like “Money On My Mind” and “La La La,” songs with which many people who are unfamiliar with Smith’s work have probably already heard. These songs, clean, poppy, catchy, make up the outer layers, but the real substance comes in the form of soulful, heart wrenching ballads like “Stay With Me.” There is nothing poppy about the middle stretch of songs (starting with “Stay With Me” and ending with “Not In That Way”) except perhaps for Smith’s voice, which always manages to negotiate the right affect, connecting the barrage of emotions the singer experiences along the way. There is lust, frustration, cheating, and plenty of the unrequited love Smith seems all too familiar with. Without Disclosure’s production, the acoustic version of “Latch” becomes the heartbreaking song Smith’s voice always hinted at, and though the bouncy playfulness of the original song is sorely missed, Smith’s version fits the mood of his album perfectly. Disclosure’s “Latch” is about making a connection; Smith’s is about yearning for one.
The Adele comparison has been made, and it seems like the easy choice; like Adele’s 19 and 21, In The Lonely Hour is crafted around the artist’s vocals, but Smith is much more reserved in his delivery. His album doesn’t have the youthful excitement of 19, or the indignant resentment of 21; instead, Smith’s emotional space is situated somewhere between those extremes, in the loneliness of never getting to experience either. Unrequited love seems like a big topic for such a young artist, but it works because it’s what he knows, so when he sings about it throughout In The Lonely Hour, you have to believe it.