Albums of the week: From Sam to Sheridan Smith
Sam Smith - The Thrill of It All. Sam Smith is proof that you can have the fame, the talent, the success (an Oscar, three Brits and four Grammys, etc) and still be knocked down by the gut-wrenching sadness of heartbreak.
Luckily, he is skilled enough to turn his misery into music and, on The Thrill Of It All, Smith lays himself bare, raw from a painful break-up.
But that’s not to say his second album is just a collection of mood-busting melancholy. While, yes, there is a fair amount of lyrical woe, Smith shows that all is not lost in love and life with upbeat tracks Baby You Make Me Crazy and One Last Song.
Not one of Smith’s songs is weak — there is no filler. The album is a compilation of the good, the great and the “good God, that’s exactly what I need right now”. Highlights are No Peace — in which he shows how flawlessly his voice works with a female vocal, unsigned artist Yebba — and Him, a clever choral anthem about his sexuality (his version of a hymn) that will no doubt inspire the global LGBTQI+ community.
After a three-and-a-half-year wait, Smith has produced an album that seriously rivals his critically acclaimed debut.
Sheridan Smith - Sheridan
She’s got an impressive television CV and has received rave reviews for her theatre roles too. Now Sheridan Smith’s latest venture — her rendition of a number of classic songs on her debut album — adds another impressive notch to her many talents.
The album starts off with a haunting version of the Gnarls Barkley hit Crazy which is filled with smoky, jazzy undertones. She definitely shows off her versatility as a singer by tackling the much-loved Dionne Warwick/Cilla Black hit Anyone Who Had A Heart. For fans of hit film La La Land there’s also a cover of City Of Stars. Probably one of the most impressive songs is her version of Jennifer Hudson’s Dreamgirls song And I Am Telling You. It’s a huge ballad that she makes her own quite easily and gently.
Roy Orbinson and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - A Love So Beautiful
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra follows its successful ‘collaborations’ with Elvis by reviving another distinctive and much-missed voice from the past: The Big O, adding lush orchestration to 17 of his best-known hits. Orbison’s mournful love songs are a perfect fit for a full orchestra — something which, naturally, was also recognised at the time. As a result a lot of the revamped tracks (particularly early hits such as In Dreams and I’m Hurtin’) sound more or less the same.
However, when the arrangements do deviate from the originals the results are not always successful. A John Barry-style score adds an unwelcome layer of schmaltz to It’s Over, but 1980s hit You Got It sounds fresher with strings than with the synthetic production of that era. Ultimately however, this is at best a curio and at worst a classy act of vandalism.
LaFontaines - Common Problem
The LaFontaines are aiming high. While they were always pegged as a band that defied genre on their debut album, this felt more that they were “masters of none” than polymaths. But with their fresh new release, Common Problem, the Scottish rap-rockers are perfectly clear about where they want to be: everywhere.
Their hard-hitting opener, Explosion, is a nod to their fans. Through distorted guitar and heavy lyrics they seem to promise the same raucous shows that brought them to the forefront of Glasgow’s rising music scene. But the funny thing about Common Problem is the further The LaFontaines stray from their debut sound, the more they seem to reward their listeners. With a catchy and well-written title track that could easily find its way on mainstream radio, and a dark, synthy single, Asleep, The LaFontaines cast their net wider for future fans.
They may not have found their footing or the fanbase they’re aiming for, but it’s only a matter of time.
Rie - Levels
If you are looking for some chill-out vibes, these three tracks from Rie have got you covered. The Tokyo-born singer-songwriter’s second EP instantly gets you in the mood for relaxation and reflection, with her dreamy tunes and lyrics that pry into introspective questions. The melodies meld perfectly with the catchy beat and a number of soft electronic effects, characteristic of her natural passion for experimentation both as a musician and qualified artist.
But, while the collection makes for a brief and welcome head space session, there is little change in pace, which would make it tricky to keep up with anything longer.