Unrequited love is a hell of a muse.
Just ask Adele. And Frank Ocean. And Sam Smith. Who? Sam Smith. Sam Smith is one of the latest in an impressive production line of soul singers that have come out of the UK in the last couple of years. Could it be all that tea and crumpets? Oh the fish and chips perhaps? Whatever it is I am just glad they are putting the soul back into our radios. Shouts to Emeli Sandé.
Personally I think Sam Smith owned the Queen of R&B herself Mary J Blige on ‘Stay With Me’ duet. I actually prefer his solo version to be honest.
Sam Smith’s voice is sublime. You feel it before you hear it. And that’s just about as soulful as it gets. When I found out he was a 22 year old white guy I was even more impressed by the soulful inflections in his voice because traditionally the most soulful singers have tended to be black. And Sam Smith is just as soulful as any other cats out there. Fact. His voice speaks for itself. Admittedly I only caught onto his music a few weeks ago. But as soon as I heard his beautifully soulful voice on the radio I fell in love with his music. At the time I had no idea who the artist was. Where is Shazam when you need it? Sigh. It would be a few days before I would finally found out that the man behind the voice was none other Sam Smith. And the song that had initially piqued my interest? His latest single ‘Leave Your Lover’ of his debut album the ‘‘In The Lonely Hour’.
Since then I have made it my mission to listen to this young soul impresario’s music. And as I embarked on this journey I become more and more of a fan. Songs like ‘Money On Mind’, ‘Stay With Me’ and ‘Nirvana’ reminded of how of an old soul I actually am. That even in this increasingly digital world I am an analogue at heart. There is a certain warmth and humanity in Sam Smith’s voice that is so refreshing especially when juxtaposed against most of the mainstream vapid ‘music’. This is something that he addressed in a recent interview with The Fader magazine when he said;
‘I want to make the music that’s not there anymore. I’m so passionate about the singing voice. I genuinely feel like there’s a snobbery in the industry where people feel like playing an instrument makes you a better songwriter or musician. What I’m trying to do actually with my album is show that it’s my voice that’s leading. It’s my voice that’s the instrument. It’s hard, it’s difficult—I watch artists around me that have 200 fans waiting outside of hotels and venues for them and they can’t sing.’
Outside of his music I also dug a little into the story of the man behind the voice. And the first thing I picked up on was the parallels between some aspects of his story and that of Frank Ocean, another soulful singer whose music I absolutely adore. Like Frank Ocean before him the inspiration for Sam Smith’s Album ‘In The Lonely Hour’ was drawn from love gone wrong. Unrequited love to be specific. And for both artists the person who they loved was a man. It seems men are quite the muses when it comes to this thing called unrequited love. Shouts to Adele.
In some instances both Sam Smith and Frank Ocean’s music is confessional and serves as a platform for them to ‘come out’ per se. ‘Leave Your Lover’ is to Sam Smith what ‘Bad Religion’ was to Frank Ocean. As a listener whilst I have never been in love with a man, I have experienced unrequited love. I think everyone who has ever opened themselves up to love has at some point. It doesn’t matter how beautiful or charming you are. It doesn’t matter if you are gay or straight. At some point we have all loved someone who hasn’t necessarily loved us back. Life.
And that’s the beauty of art. Our experiences don’t have to be identical. They just have to resonate. Therein lays the magic in Sam Smith’s music. It resonates. It tugs at your heartstrings. It moves you. And if you are lucky enough it makes you more appreciative of the love that you currently have in your life. In the same cover story for The Fader magazine Sam Smith had this to say about the inspiration behind his album.
‘In the Lonely Hour’ is about a guy that I fell in love with last year, and he didn’t love me back. I think I’m over it now, but I was in a very dark place. I kept feeling lonely in the fact that I hadn’t felt love before. I’ve felt the bad things. And what’s a more powerful emotion: pain or happiness?
What’s a more powerful emotion; pain or happiness? That is a very good question. One that I will leave you to marinate on whilst I continue marinating on Sam Smith’s music.
You can read the full The Fader cover story on Sam Smith in which he opens up about his life and love here.