After the superstar-making success of In The Lonely Hour, Sam Smith understandably dished up more of the same on 2017’s The Thrill Of It All. And by the same, I mean forlorn ballads and soulful mid-tempo anthems. But then something wonderful happened. The Brit underwent a profound personal and creative metamorphosis. They came out as non-binary, put the sad songs to one side for a spell and embraced their inner club queen on a series of hit collaborations including “Promises” and “Dancing With A Stranger.”
Which makes Sam’s third album, Love Goes, a fascinating proposition. Do they retreat to familiar territory or plunge deeper into the unknown? The answer lies somewhere in-between. The first half of Love Goes is jam-packed with bittersweet bangers and quirky studio experiments, while the latter indulges in a little downhearted balladry. Some critics have accused the 28-year-old of playing it safe, but I don’t see why Sam should have to choose one speed or the other. Particularly, when they are really, really good at both.
And Love Goes is still a cohesive record. All songs explore matters of the (broken) heart, but, every now and again, it’s nice to dance away the tears. The disco-tinged “Diamonds” is a perfect example. Defiant and bruised in equal measure, this bop is about finally seeing someone’s true colors. “Another One” is similarly worldweary. This dance-pop moment finds Sam urging an ex-lover to be kinder to their replacement. There’s a raw hurt about “Another One” that reminds me of Robyn’s “Be Mine” or “With Every Heartbeat.”
There are also moments of levity. “Dance (‘Til You Love Someone Else)” might have a gut-wrenching title, but there’s an intentional campiness to the delivery and Two Inch Punch’s production that makes it Eurovision-worthy. “So Serious” is also comparatively upbeat with its call to unclench and have a little fun. The closest thing to a genuinely feel-good banger, however, is “My Oasis” featuring Burna Boy. This underrated gem was released at the height of COVID-19 pandemic and got a little lost in the mix. Which is a real shame.
Now for the ballads. A voice like Sam’s is a God-given conduit for pain and loneliness, two topics that are thoroughly covered on the second half of Love Goes. “For The Lover I Lost” wouldn’t sound out of place on In The Lonely Hour, while “Breaking Hearts” is similarly classic. Long-time collaborator Jimmy Napes had a hand in both, but the producer’s best contribution is “Forgive Myself.” This soaring anthem could stand toe-to-toe with any of the Grammy-winning ballads in Sam’s discography.
The title track is another winner. A collaboration with Labrinth, this is an understated yet powerful rumination on the fleeting nature of love and the emotional fallout that follows. It would have been the perfect note to end on, but that honor goes to “Kids Again” — a nostalgic mid-tempo number about memories and regret. It feels like a purposeful choice. Sam isn’t quite ready to embrace the mild optimism of “Love Goes.” Hopefully, they will be by the time album number four comes around.