Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Sam Smith – I’m Not the Only One

Sometimes CMT plays the video on mute…


Maxwell Cavaseno: Proficiency to the point of putting you in a coma. Sam Smith is fantastic, really, but soul boy purism is still soul boy purism; while this makes great musical wallpaper, there’s still a clinical quality that keeps Sam in the “Please Hold, Our Operators Are Standing By” realm and never lets him enter my head.

Scott Mildenhall: Sam Smith’s voice should be an instrument purchasable in shops. The way he contorts from unthreatening vulnerability to the scorned anger of “you don’t think I know what you’ve done” and back is so astute and so evocative. From the off, the ambling piano vividly paints him as a lonely drunk, quietly intimidating the piano player into letting him sing to ill-at-ease onlookers, yet with impressive results. It’s like a film. By the end someone would give him a hug, if not for the fear of reprisal.

Alfred Soto: Mr I’m-a-Homo-Without-Homo-Experience sure values the melodramatic piano balladry with which the orientation he doesn’t much like has fluttered hearts for a century, and his mucous-thick vocal has an epicene charm; the thudding percussion, lachrymose plod, and rhythm guitar upstrokes suggest TV on the Radio listening to Morrissey and getting him wrong. Morrissey is way gayer and his material moves, after all.

Anthony Easton: Can we talk about how terrible Sam Smith’s cover of “Fast Car” is? He turns this song about danger, erotic longing and economic disenfranchisement into this idea of what he thinks soul music must sound like. It becomes this fly-in-amber attempt, which Anglo singers are kind of known for — that’s what was happening with Amy Winehouse, and also Robbie Williams singing “Me and Mrs. Jones,” plus the entire Northern Soul scene if I can be reductive. Sometimes it works really well, noting genius in what had previously been discarded, but often the feeling is absent. I don’t want to be the kind of asshole who thinks that feelings equal authenticity, or that one cannot use the hermetic reproducible to mark heartbreak, but those are deliberate choices. When Smith sings “Fast Car,” one is never sure why he chose that text. Not knowing why he makes the choices he does is explicit as a problem when he sings covers; but unlike Adele, it becomes even more problematic, even more difficult to write about when he sings originals. I cannot quite figure out why a singer who seems to rest on narratives of excessive desire never seems to be selling his material with any real sensitivity, or even committing to narratives of artifice, but I would really like to. Not that those are the only choices — there are a million choices, each more legitimate than the last — but make a choice. Even if your choice is to be a semi-closeted blankness for desire to be broadcast onto, that’s less interesting, but completely legitimate. This makes no choices.

Patrick St. Michel: Boring as heck now, but maybe it will sound better 20 years down the line while I’m waiting at Cost Cutters.

David Sheffieck: The idea that there might be more of him, lurking out in the darkness and just waiting to strike when we least suspect, is genuinely distressing.

Thomas Inskeep: You know why Mary J. Blige is recording an album in London with the cream of the UK soul crop? Songs like this one. Any misgivings I have about Smith aside, this is one hell of a song — and MJB could sing the ever-loving hell out of it. (So could’ve Winehouse, RIP.) I vastly prefer this to Smith’s previous singles; it’s — work with me here — sensitively produced. I’d still rather hear someone singing this who can really blow, but Smith’s voice is effective on this, at least. 

Abby Waysdorf: I made the mistake of listening to the whole Sam Smith album before realizing that we were reviewing this. I only say “made the mistake” because it means that I now have to be the sort of ridiculous person who thinks that another song on the album should be the single instead. Which makes me vaguely mad at “I’m Not the Only One” — which is really a lovely, jazzy piano song in its own right — for not being my preferred singles. Perhaps it’s because “I’m Not the Only One” doesn’t have quite the same drama or pathos as previous Smith singles, which is what I generally like about him (I can see why Erasure-meets-Toni-Braxton is not appealing for many, but it works so well for me). Or maybe I just think I know better and want to be consulted next time.

Danilo Bortoli: Just last week, FKA twigs covered Sam’s Smith “Stay With Me” for BBC Radio 1, proving Smith’s interpretation of the song is his original sin. And since Smith is someone who (just like everyone who is or has been a part of the New Boring) gets praised because of something as arbitrary as the interpretation of their own songs — in his case, songs that contain his dreary, mournful singing — “I’m Not The Only One” is more of the same. Not only because we can’t quite picture what the hell he’s aiming at specifically (as the lyrics are extremely vague they reach the point of becoming a postcard message), but also because his tone and his vision of love and lust never change: there are no contradictions, no complexity to hold his perfect narrative of love and betrayal together. You love, you get cheated on, you move. There’s a lot of tension his singing and mourning is simply ignoring, either because he doesn’t want to talk about those feelings or because he simply can’t reach that catharsis.

Katherine St Asaph: Imagine Emeli Sandé. Now imagine Emeli Sandé if she happened, but remained essentially Emeli Sandé. Now wake up, it’s distasteful to sleep in public.

Megan Harrington: When I took driver’s ed my field instructor would only listen to the local soft jazz station. It was primarily Luther Vandross and Vanessa Williams and Teddy Pendergrass, crooning me to sleep in the backseat. I spent those class periods wishing I had one of the instructors that didn’t care what was playing in the car, or that he’d meet me halfway on an oldies station, but Mr. Simmons had strong feelings about the merits of soft jazz played for student drivers. Listening to “I’m Not the Only One” is like feeling the cocoon spin around me. I’m swaddled in cotton down and fifteen once more. Sam Smith isn’t edgy and he doesn’t even particularly expand this brand of easy listening, but he’s so comforting and docile that I find it hard to resent him the way I could have ten years ago.  

Brad Shoup: More soul-pop, but the pop’s heavy on the scale: the drummer’s not digging in, and those claps are a recurring grey spot on the beat. But dang, Smith’s weird big-baby timbre works for me here, affixed as it is to a classically shopworn melody. The warping two-note string figure fucks up his frown — it’s a rueful touch right outta the honky-tonk of my dreams.

Reader average: [6] (3 votes)

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15 Responses to “Sam Smith – I’m Not the Only One”

  1. katherine so shady i love it

  2. Alfred, I’m curious, what exactly do you mean by “Mr I’m-a-Homo-Without-Homo-Experience”? Also when you say “orientation” do you mean gender?

  3. I alluded to Brett Anderson of Suede’s (in)famous line about his purported bisexuality and Sam Smith’s FADER interview.

  4. Also, of all things, the Armand van Helden mix of this song is what I most want it to be.

  5. And Smith’s into-guys-who-aren’t-into-you is way closer to me at 22 than any other pop-cultural exploration of the year, so I think I might be inclined to cut him more slack.

  6. Yeah, I thought you were thinking of that interview, just didn’t twig the Anderson thing; “experience” makes more sense with that context. Still, all he said in that interview was he’d never been in a relationship, which I’m not sure is the benchmark of “experience”, nor cause for what I’m reading as an epithet.

    He’s said some stuff I disagree with (mostly just things that make me feel quite sorry for him), but I’m not really sure that’s an insult, is all.

  7. For the record, I think Winehouse would’ve hated this arrangement. I don’t care what Mary’s doing to attempt her third comeback.

    I think my big problem with Smith isn’t even his songs, it’s the arrangements are so stiff and pious and soulful without feeling… well, soulful. There’s so much poise and pose involved in what he does. That’s why “Latch” worked so well, he doesn’t get a chance. (though I cannot stand “Latch either)

  8. I laughed when I read David’s blurb.


  10. i hope you tit punch scott and brad. i KNEW i wouldn’t be the only [8].

  11. All these blurbs are great – I actually didn’t hate this (maybe a [6], even) if only because it has a bit more pep than “Stay With Me,” which has been following literally everywhere I go lately. Def agree with Maxwell about the drab arrangements he always does.

  12. Liked Armand’s mix but Grant Nelson’s is straight fire.

  13. Dang Will, you are very right. Basically it’s much better as a house song.

  14. Turns out I gave “Stay With Me” an [8], also. I guess I feel like if he debuted in ’85, there’d be a ton of ILXers with some fond-ass memories.

  15. Anthony, I love this blurb. You’re absolutely right — *no strong choices* in many of Sam’s songs.

    In fact, the only place I’ve really enjoyed him is in that Disclosure song, where Disclosure took this syrupy voice and put STRUCTURE around it and made it quite lovely.