Sam-Smith-In-the-Lonely-Hour-2014-1500x1500As the winner of the BBC Sound of 2014 poll and the BRIT Critics’ Choice award, expectations for Sam Smith’s debut album are high – but he goes in with considerable momentum.

He’s already scored hits with Disclosure (Latch) and Naughty Boy (La La La), plus a Number One solo single in Money On My Mind. How does his full-length album follow on from that, and is it worth a spin? I’ve given it the once over to find out…

Money On My Mind

Sam’s Number One single from earlier this year needs no introduction as it kicks off proceedings nicely: it is to this album what Heaven was to Emeli Sandé’s debut – not that Sam really needs another comparison to the be-quiffed one. It’s the perfect introduction to his voice and writing style.

Good Thing

Two songs in, and things are already stripped back, as Sam tackles an acoustic-led ballad. This is the first of a few co-writes with British go-to songster Eg White, who is good at writing the kind of heartbreak songs that pour effortlessly out of Sam: “Too much of a good thing, won’t be good for long…” he croons. The simple acoustic guitar accompaniment is broken up with a pulsing beat, which comes and goes, plus a lush burst of orchestral strings which bookends the song.

Stay With Me

So simple, but so perfect, there’s nothing about this song you can’t like. An ode to the the inevitable loss of a one-night stand, it’s an admission of youthful emotions that most artists would never share in a song. If Sam has a claim to being Adele’s male heir (her baby aside, obvs), then this is it. And never underestimate the power of a gospel choir.

Leave Your Lover

As this song creeps open (“I don’t have much to give but I don’t care for gold”), it harks back to Elton John’s Your Song, but the chorus is pure George Michael. So, it’s fair to say Sam’s on the right track, but bloody unlucky in love, as the title suggests. Co-written with Cherry Ghost frontman Simon Aldred, this is another simple guitar and string-led ballad about a love interest who’s already with someone else – and blissfully unaware that Sam is besotted. Babes, we’ve all been there.

I’m Not the Only One

If Stay With Me was a gospel-fest, then this is the album’s bluesy moment. It has echoes of Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay, with Sam’s strong falsetto running free as ever. Lyrically, he’s in another bitch of a predicament here, as the title suggests.”When you call me baby,” Sam sings, “I know I’m not the only one”. Plus, it’s very obvious by this point that this is an album filled with songs that are short and sweet – i.e. not like a Janet Jackson epic circa 1996.

I’ve Told You Now

Another Eg White co-write, but this one ups the game from Good Thing, and edges up there with Chasing Pavements and Leave Right Now, which White also had a hand in. Fans will already have lived with the acoustic version of this song, which was recorded at St Pancras Old Church last year – but the produced version doesn’t disappoint, staying true to the beauty of the song, with a beat and dancing piano chords thrown in too. Oh, and it’s not explicit, but we think he’s told someone he loves them – knowing his luck, I’m going to guess they didn’t say it back (bless).

Like I Can

Production-wise this is a dead ringer for Rolling In the Deep, and the hook is just as catchy, so considering it’s much more upbeat than the previous few songs (but still bearing the right amount of heartbreak from Sam), this is strong single material.

Life Support

Appropriately enough given its title, this song has a bit more life than most of the other ballads on the album. It has the same production team behind it as Money On My Mind, but this is a much more tender song.

Not In That Way

This is a stripped-back affair featuring nothing but Sam’s voice and a plucked guitar. He fears asking his love interest how they feel, because they’d probably say, “I love you, but not in that way” – again, who hasn’t been there? And that’s what makes this kind of song so special – you know how it feels.

Lay Me Down

This was Sam’s first real solo offering, released in 2013, and it’s right that it should close his album – if you know it, it’s like coming home to an old friend you know well. It has some glowing new production now – with a few of the gospel flourishes from Stay With Me thrown in. It’s a perfect example of what he does best.

Overall: 4/5

Everything here is great, as was to be expected. It’s top quality, singer-songwriter, organic pop music, with tunes and production that do justice to Sam’s brilliant vocals. Alas, some may find it a tad samey, but if you’re looking for bangers, this was never the place to go. It’s an album of beautifully poignant love songs, and clocking in at just over 30 minutes, you’ve definitely got time (and the desire) for a second listen. Adele: watch the throne.

In The Lonely Hour by Sam Smith is released in the UK on May 26.