You could say Jimmy Napes is “the man” in Sam Smith’s life. No, not the cad the British crooner thanked for ripping his heart to shreds during one of his many trips to the stage on Grammy night. Napes was the bespectacled, five-o’clock-shadowed dude standing next to Smith with his own set of hardware.
Happy to hang in the background while Smith’s tortured vocals and puppy dog eyes take the lead on the pair’s mega-hit collaboration, “Stay with Me”, the singer-songwriter/producer is ready for the world to know his name — although anyone with a passing interest in Disclosure or Mary J. Blige can claim “I knew him first!” thanks to his fingerprints smudging “Latch” and the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul’s The London Sessions.
Born James Napier, the co-writer of yet another Grammy winner this year (for Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be”) dives into personal matters on The Making of Me. Credit his wife for inspiring the four-song EP, especially the sweet “Keep You to Myself”, which first got a public showing at the pair’s nuptials. Two renditions of the song make up half the EP: first a bouncy, dance floor-ready version aimed at cementing Napes’ ability to whip listeners into a frenzy, and later a subtle, piano-driven companion that takes us right to Napes’ wedding day. Hopeless romantics will probably veer toward the subdued number, but it’s impossible to listen without thinking how sublime Smith’s voice would be in place of Napes’ soothing yet mediocre tenor.
The wiggling title track could easily fit either in a slinky club setting or as the soundtrack to a boudoir photo shoot. Sharing emotional and rhythmic cues from those seductive men of mystery in Rhye, the song’s message — that behind every great man is a supportive woman — empowers both sexes. You can bump ‘n’ grind to this one without having to mentally block out the lyrics or feel grimy.
Fortunately, Napes doesn’t fall into the Burt Bacharach trap on this first outing of stellar songwriting marred by singing so inept you want to shake God by the shoulders and scream “WHY?” But, like Bacharach, his true gift might lie in the voices of others.
Essential Tracks: “The Making of Me”