Sam Smith’s third studio album is finally here. After the British singer retitled the album, shot a new cover, recorded new songs, and pushed back the release date (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), they finally dropped Love Goes last week (October 30). Love Goes, previously titled To Die For, is the result of a year-long singles campaign featuring a slew of new sounds for one of the most successful balladeers in 2010s pop music. These singles were a gift and a curse for Love Goes. On the one hand, the singles (the Normani-featuring “Dancing with a Stranger,” “How Do You Sleep,” “To Die For,” the Demi Lovato-featuring “I’m Ready,” “I Feel Love,” and the Burna Boy-featuring “My Oasis”) offer an extremely solid streaming cushion for the album ahead of its official release. The singles reached varying levels of success, but those that were successful (“Dancing with a Stranger” and “How Do You Sleep”) were very successful. Love Goes also features “Fire On Fire,” a single from the soundtrack for Watership Down, and the Calvin Harris joint single “Promises” which went #1 in the U.K. Unfortunately, on the other hand, the myriad of songs lend themselves to a messy tracklist, confusing narrative, and a dip in quality that was painfully avoidable.
Love Goes is a solid collection of ballads and bangers that ultimately falls victim to an identity crisis. The album isn’t sure if it wants be an uptempo dance break up album because Sam too often regresses into ballads reminiscent of their first two albums, but these new ballads lack the urgency of their trademark hits “Stay With Me,” “Lay Me Down,” etc. “Young” is a gorgeous opener, the best of their career so far. Steeped in Imogen Heap’s sonic influence, the a capella track is grounded by Sam’s raspy lower range and contemplative tone that evokes nostalgia for a past that they were robbed of. It’s a somber opening number, but it sets the tone for the album beautifully: “If you wanna judge me, then go and load the gun/I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m young.” From there, the album launches into a sleek run of Robyn-esque dance tracks that perfectly balance danceability and vulnerability. “Diamonds,” which is looking to become Sam’s latest Top 10 hit in the U.K., sports a funky bass line and haunting synths. The song is a scathing rebuke of material things, not unlike “Money On My Mind” from their debut album, and an ode to genuine emotional connection. “Diamonds” is decidedly upbeat, a conscious change of pace from the ballad-heavy The Thrill Of It All, but it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi to truly make it pop. “Another One” is a breathless club-ready track that recalls the most melancholic moments of Robyn’s catalog. Sam dances through the complicated feelings of giving grace to an old flame who has effectively replaced you with someone else. “I don’t want him to hurt like me/Just please treat him like he’s someone” they sing, with all the tenderness in the world. There’s also “Dance (‘Til You Love Someone Else)” which, from the title alone, encompasses the primary goal of Love Goes. Inflected with notes of deep house and featuring production from Guy Lawrence of Disclosure, Sam croons “Can’t forget the way you move me/Try and drown you in the music.” In a way, this song is a companion to “Dancing with a Stranger.” The former sees Sam dancing to mask their hurt and pain while the latter sees Sam dancing into a new relationship after the demise of their previous one.
Love Goes starts to fall apart with its ballads which is quite unlike Sam. While “So Serious” isn’t truly a ballad, the lyrics are ridiculously elementary. If anything, the song sounds more like a Disney Channel original than anything that should be on Sam’s third record. “For The Lover That I Lost,” a new version of a track from Céline Dion’s 2019 album Courage, is entirely too dramatic. The song feels unbalanced in the way that the lyrics are strikingly simple yet the piano and strings are so grand. This would easily be the worst song on Sam’s last album, and that album was 95% ballads. “Forgive Myself” is a passable song, but it suffers from Sam’s ill-informed decision to push all the ballads next to each other towards the end of the album. The momentum of the album is stunted, and by the time it picks up again, we’re in this weird “bonus tracks that were previously album tracks but were tacked on for streams” territory. “Breaking Hearts” is one of the best ballads on the album, however, with its clever lyrics, fun chorus melody, and emphatic vocal performance.
The end of Love Goes’ proper tracklist features two songs that push Sam into a new sonic spaces and hint at the sound of their next record. The Labrinth-assisted title track pulls from Labrinth’s own production style of shape-shifting songs. The delicate ballad slowly morphs into a triumphant orchestra with thumping brass and rousing strings. Labrinth and Sam’s voices complement each other beautifully and they exert excellent vocal control. Finally, there’s “Kids Again,” a Fleetwood Mac-esque closer with sweeping guitars and wistful nostalgia that brings the album full circle. Love Goes is a fine record; it doesn’t reach the highs of Sam’s last two albums, and its lows are some of the lowest in their entire catalog. The most irksome thing about Love Goes is that the bonus tracks could have been effectively tied in to the “official” tracklist, and the decision to tack them onto the end (especially when most of them are just as good, if not better, than the standard tracks) is unforgivably lazy. All in all, it’s nice to hear Sam on more uptempo records, but hopefully on their next album they tie in the narrative strength of their earlier records with these new sonic adventures.
Key Tracks: “Young” | “Another One” | “Love Goes” | “Breaking Hearts”