When it comes to everything from radio-ready dance bops, to powerful ballads of love and loss, one of the top artists of the industry is Sam Smith. With the singer’s heart inked permanently on their sleeve, Smith never strays from leaving it all to bare, especially when crafting countless bangers to fill the pop soundscape. An important note: Smith goes by the pronouns they/them/their. With their latest album “Love Goes,” we find Smith venturing further into the dark recesses of their experiences with heartbreak and longing. While their music has always had a palpable mix of sweeping, sentimental crooning and tinges of electronic aesthetic, “Love Goes” feels significant not only because of the intimacy of its tracks, but also because of the volatile state of the world to which the album was released.
Riding off the success of 2017’s “The Thrill Of It All” and entering a global pandemic in 2020, Sam Smith has had a lot on their mind going into their latest album. Add a bit of heartbreak to the mix and we’re left with an artist struggling to distinguish the good from the bad, all while grappling with their own emotional state. Naturally, Smith’s own experiences and the impact of the pandemic brought changes to the artist’s newest release, namely the album’s title which was formerly called “To Die For.” Out of respect to those facing tragedy and loss this year, Smith would subsequently change the title to “Love Goes,” painting the record in a new light of hope even as things appear very grim. Thankfully, Smith is particularly well-versed in composing tracks that ride the borderline between melancholy and joy, and able to imbue a fantastic sense of elation and energy even when his lyrics lean towards the somber. Even as love fades, compassion and optimism for the good remain.
Even with their reputation of dropping legible pop ballads designed to top the charts, from “Money On My Mind” to “Too Good At Goodbyes,” Smith still isn’t afraid to ride that boundary of sadness and jubilation in far more intimate tracks. Opening their latest album with the spare and ghostly “Young,” Smith sets the tone of the record as not only a nostalgic contemplation of past lives (a motif they return to later on in “Kids Again”) but a journey towards acceptance and escaping the all-too-serious notions of a relationship as well. Before you get fully attached to someone or begin to dwell too much on the negative, as Smith professes in the track “So Serious,” you have to find joy in the small things. While Smith bears the scars of regret and longing on tracks like “Breaking Hearts” and “For The Lover That I Lost,” the artist also captures feelings of self-reflection and forgiveness in both somber (“Forgive Myself”) and upbeat (“Diamonds”) fashions. Some tracks inevitably tread similar waters of Smith’s previous discography, applying melancholic piano with Smith’s vocals coming off more reserved than hopeful, but the nostalgic narrative of the first 10 tracks off the album harbors a few notable picks, like that of “My Oasis” featuring Burna Boy.
Ultimately, while “Love Goes” does find Smith exerting their emotional reflexes to prodigious avail once more, the reach of the album’s message wanes slightly as the last handful of tracks close out the record. Despite the easy listening of singles like “Dancing With A Stranger” and “I’m Ready,” the only notable contribution of the album’s established narrative might be “To Die For.” Even as it bathes Smith’s pearly vocals in Auto-Tune, it remains a personal favorite of mine from the record for its contemplative lyricism and phenomenal production.
As the album closes out, my thoughts linger on how Smith’s latest stacks up against their previous work. “Love Goes” succeeds in taking a few gracious dives into its artist’s recent brushes with heartbreak, but perhaps doesn’t surpass the sensational weight and palpable intensity of Smith’s sophomore record “The Thrill Of It All.” As the latter presented a cohesive and transformative journey for Smith as they grappled with the identity and blistering emotions they’d been keeping at bay for so long, “Love Goes” feels like a contemplative yet minimal account that is ultimately more comfortable sending up replayable, risk-free pop stylings over the more tempered musings that truly get us inside the head, and heart, of Sam Smith.