Photo Credit: Capitol Music Group
Sam Smith originally planned to release their third album in the summer of 2020 under an entirely different name – what once was To Die For, a carefree and sexy ode to the inner George Michael driving Smith to glitzier parties and brighter dance floors, is now Love Goes, a tepid progression of the English artist’s sensitive romantic self. Many of the songs were kept when the project was delayed and the prospect of releasing an album with that title during a global pandemic was deemed too insensitive. As a result, Love Goes is an album that plays to Smith’s strengths with a soulful delivery, and timidly explores their appreciation of dance music culture.
The album rollout was decidedly messy through no fault of Smith’s; singles that were intended for the original album are now stuffed into the back-half of the record as bonus tracks, not as relevant among other songs in the track list. Smith declared in an interview with Zane Lowe that this album represents the struggles marring their first true heartbreak; that’s immediately discernible in the scorned “Diamonds”, a romping track that casts out a former lover, decrying them as a gold digger. The apathy in Smith’s voice sells this kind of dance track remarkably well, and there is cause to hope that they will turn to the dance floor more often in the future.
“For The Lover That I Lost” shatters the memory of a former love as Smith sings of laying down roses for what they’ve lost, conjuring funerals and memorials. “Forgive Myself” relays the pain in being unable to escape the memories of the good times that just aren’t there anymore. Smith works hard to forgive themself for what they know they can’t fix.
The new title track, featuring Labrinth, plays like late-afternoon light trickling in through blinds and sounds the least like anything that would be expected from Smith. The matter-of-fact lyrics are still hopeful, and they’re launched into the stratosphere with the fantastical fanfare (and trap?!) that lead to the song’s gorgeous, orchestral close. It’s perhaps the most head-scratching moment on the record, and it’s irrelevant to ask whether it “works” or not, as it’s so in-your-face that whether it works doesn’t really matter, because it still grabs you.
Juxtaposition decreases the album’s potency on repeated listens. A cappella opener “Young” is a sentimental expression of carefree vitality that draws comparisons to Celine Dion’s “A New Day Has Come” – but followed immediately by “Diamonds”, both songs lose their focus. “Another One” comes next and captures a perspective not unlike the one the scorned lover might take on Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” – no doubt an inspiration in this song’s writing and production – but its energy is light and positive, far from the dreary longing found elsewhere on the album.
Love Goes entered the world under unfortunate circumstances that marred its reception; not quite a celebration of individuality to forget the world, not a critique of social injustice, and not a career-defining misstep, the album hangs in the void, almost forgotten in the landscape of surprise singles and event albums littering the landscape through all of 2020. Its most promising moments showcase Smith’s ability to capture utter duress in simple songwriting and, of course, with their trembling voice. After the year we’ve all had, that much is undoubtedly reassuring, and the lessons Smith learns in this convoluted album cycle will hopefully influence their future records, whether tainted with heartbreak or stricken by celebration.