Where do lonely hearts go? British singer Sam Smith, 21, has written a dissertation on the question with his debut LP. Smith – a gifted blue-eyed-soulster with Barry Gibb’s flexible falsetto and Mark Ronson’s ear for throwback grooves – got noticed last year for his vocals on house duo Disclosure’s slow jam “Latch.” With In the Lonely Hour‘s orchestral flourishes and focus on a single unrealized affair, it seems the baby-faced singer is being positioned as a male Adele. But while the album flirts with a few radiant moments, Smith’s endless yearning isn’t wrapped in as many irresistible packages.
He rolls deepest on the gospel-powered “Stay With Me” – a spare track with a simple arrangement that matches its bare plea – and “Like I Can,” a blissful groove that packs a Seventies rock-radio punch. Elsewhere, though he reaches for his upper register with the same eagerness that he grasps for love, his emo hopelessness is a flood drowning everything in sight. The album’s team of producers gives Smith a mostly blank canvas to showcase his vocals, providing room for soaring riffs over fingerpicked guitars on “Not in That Way” and “Leave Your Lover.” But neither leaves as indelible a mark as Smith’s lost love has left on his heart.