Thursday, September 7, 2017

The New Sam Smith Album | Lefsetz Letter

Is there room for Sam Smith in a hip-hop dominated world?


Streaming won, but the early adopters were young rappers, and presently most other genres are excluded from the top lists.

But that’s about to change.

And if we’re waiting for the oldsters to move the needle, we’re gonna die first. That’s what happens as you age, you go from an early adopter to a non-adopter, you believe the present is just fine, the future is overwhelming, so you stay just where you are.

In the land of files and CDs.

But the world has moved on. Streaming is the key revenue generator. No one can sell 10 million albums anymore, as Sam Smith did three years ago, it’s impossible. For Taylor Swift to have CDs delivered via UPS is like going to your landline to make a phone call. You still can, but why would you?

And Taylor Swift is a good example.

She’s chasing trends.

Sam Smith is staying in his own uninhabited lane.

Swift used to be different. She sang of her travails with melody and a fiddle, country-lite, and coming from left field she smoked Nashville.

But that was not enough for her.

And whenever you chase more, try to be the biggest and the baddest, you fail, because your goal is not only specious, but hollow, and you endure backlash. Who cares about records? Fastest, longest, biggest. Wasn’t it supposed to be about music?

Smith’s new LP is about music, I heard it today.

Oh, let’s be frank, Steve Barnett was working me. I got that right up front.

But the truth is someone’s got to be working you, or else you fail. That’s the era we now live in, one of clutter, it’s hard to break through and get your story heard. So you need a team to get the message across.

Barnett’s been brainstorming since February. He’s got a master plan, a coated piece of paper, it’s all laid out, from tomorrow, when the single drops, to album release date in November to radio shows to…

It’s a lot of work. A LOT OF WORK!

But that’s what it takes to be successful today.

Niall Horan was a secondary player in the One Direction saga. The spotlight shone elsewhere. But rather than rest on his laurels, his history, Niall has traveled around the world, twice, and is now going again, pounding the flesh, shaking hands. And it’s working. His single is moving. That’s right, it’s a lot of work, damn hard work, and I won’t say making the music is the easy part, but the slog thereafter taxes your body and your brain in a different way, they wear you out, whereas creativity is about catching lightning in a bottle.

And most people can’t do it twice.

Smith went from clubs to the Garden in twelve months. You know what that does to you? That’s why Ed Sheeran resigned from social media, traveled the world, he was trying to reconnect with who he truly was, for the inspiration. Otherwise, you’re in a bubble, you’ve got nothing to say because you know nothing. Everybody’s telling you you’re great, you’ve gone from couchsurfing to the Four Seasons, money is suddenly not an issue, and you’ve got no perspective, no creativity.

Tom Scholz couldn’t follow up Boston’s debut, he lobbied for more time, which he needed, but the suits didn’t want to give it to him, they wanted the billing.

Alanis Morissette couldn’t follow up “Jagged Little Pill.” Oh, she did that great song for a movie, “Uninvited,” but I’ve stopped listening to her new music, and she’s pretty much stopped making it, putting out various iterations of her monster hit.

Even the vaunted Carole King. Nothing she did was as big as “Tapestry.” Give her credit though, when things looked bad, she changed direction, did what she wanted, trends be damned, and emerged with the smash known as “Jazzman.”

And today? The hits take a long time to make and they’re just singles and seemingly everybody’s a one hit wonder.

And those who gain traction all work with the same suspects, so the music sounds the same, so when you’re saying there’s nothing new under the sun…

You’re right.

But you’re gonna like the Sam Smith album. It’s kind of like “Avalon,” not quite that good but my point is you can put it on and let it play, it can accompany you on a Sunday afternoon, over a candlelit dinner, remember when hit music did this? It’s been a long time. Today’s successes are assaults. Machine-produced projects lacking soul. There are some great lyrics in the rap records, but I couldn’t imagine pulling those songs up to make love. Well, once in a while, but that’s it.

You see we’ve gotten far from the garden. And it’s all because of Spotify. Spotify not only changed the music business, it changed the music! Because innovative young people adopted the service and oldsters, worrying about cash, did not, and then we woke up half a decade later and the oldsters were irrelevant and most of what was on Spotify was trash. Oh, everything’s on Spotify, you’ve just got to know where to find it.

But what people stream most…

Is not what you want to hear.

Adele is already old school. “25” came out and was dependent upon physical, housewives, it was all set up for a tour, there were no memorable tracks, it was a marketing exercise.

But you can’t repeat that exercise today, that era is gone.

You can’t stay off of streaming services and you can’t depend upon radio…

Young people don’t listen. There, I said it. They hate the commercials, they hate being dictated to, they hate the delay between release and terrestrial spin. They’ve adopted the new paradigm. But where does this leave Sam Smith?

Used to be you could frontload physical, make sure you debut at number one and work radio.

Now you’ve got to make an impact on Spotify.

And Sam will, just you wait until tomorrow.

And the single is excellent. To tell you the truth, although the video is dark and direct, I liked it more without visuals. Because first and foremost music is supposed to penetrate your ears! And when done right, it’s a personal experience, just you and the creator.

And the quality is high. There are no clinkers. Only one track didn’t reach me the first time through.

And Sam sings exquisitely. And there are strings and backup singers and the whole thing breathes. You want to play it again. And again.

But there’s one track…

It’s not the single.

It’s not the follow-up.

But it’s the killer.

It’s called “Him.”

You don’t choose to be gay, you’re born that way. Can you accept yourself, can others accept you, can you stop hiding and embrace your identity, love HIM?

The track is slow, it builds, it’s heartfelt.


That’s what we’ve lost in the Max Martin era. You can break it down mathematically, strategically place hooks, but none of that stuff touches your soul.

“Him” touches your soul.

I started to smile. I was entranced. THIS is real music. When someone digs deep down inside and speaks their truth. It’s not about a perfect chorus, a perfect beat, but humanity on wax, blood on the saddle, sacrificing a bit of your identity so we all can wake up and see the truth.

Like I said, it’s a new era. Sam Smith’s new album will live or die on streaming services.

Radio is just the cherry on top.

But will there be a sundae?

Well, maybe a secret one. Not the one you Instagram, not the one you Facebook about.

Everybody’s boasting, everybody’s public.

But when you’re home alone, with more questions than answers…

When it’s just the two of you, and no one else matters…

When you want to feel like you’re not the only living boy in New York…

What do you need?


And that’s where Sam Smith’s new album shines.

That’s when it delivers.

Not when you’re having a party. Not when you’re showing off.

But when you want to feel connected.

I know, I know, we live in a singles world.

But if you can deliver an assemblage of tracks that demand listening, you’ve broken the paradigm, you’ve delivered.

That’s what Sam Smith has done here.

Dear Bob, you are totally on the money.This album is a classic.I have emailed Sam to call the album “Him”. It’s like Norah Jones’s first album. A friend for life.
An oasis in a sea of massed produced shit.
Love and peace.Elton xx

Sent from my iPad


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