Sam Smith lies peacefully on a patch of grass, basking in the sun with closed eyes on the cover of “Love Goes,” the English songwriter’s latest full-length album. In full color, the photograph is a direct contrast from the solemn, black-and-white covers of their earlier work. This visual change represents Smith’s recent shift to a more upbeat, dance-inspired sound that reflects on their movement away from familiar raw ballads and toward a hopeful display of self-confidence.
A hint of that future musical shift came through their 2020 promotional singles, “Dancing With A Stranger,” featuring Normani, and “How Do You Sleep?” On “Love Goes,” however, aside from the track “Young,” which is about their struggle as a musician in the public eye, and “So Serious,” a pop song about Smith’s experience with anxiety and depression, the rest of the 17-track album remains consistent with the subject matter we associate most with Smith: love and heartbreak. While not every song provides a particularly fresh take on romance, Smith’s new sound and newfound self-confidence are enough to make the album feel refreshing. “Love Goes” reflects their journey of personal growth, as undertones of self-love emanate through even the most wounded breakup songs.
On certain tracks, Smith’s confidence is a shift from the raw vulnerability that has grown to be characteristic of their music. The second track, “Diamonds,” seems like the starkest departure from their signature breakup ballads. Lyrics like “When you’re not here I can breathe” are particularly surprising, as apathy to love is not a feeling Smith usually conveys in their music. More shocking is the lyric “You’re never gonna hear my heart break.” The line is equal parts ironic and audacious, considering we’ve quite literally heard Smith’s heart break several times across their earlier discography.
However, Smith admits this song is written from the perspective of an alternate persona. In an interview with Apple Music, Smith shared, “I was in the studio and I was pretending to be a really rich woman whose husband had left her and taken all her things.” “Diamonds” ultimately succeeds in its goal of serving as a playful, unapologetic breakup anthem with infinite replay value.
The album quickly descends from the euphoric “Diamonds” into the reflective “Another One,” which showcases Smith’s maturity as they sing “I think I can finally face that / I’m not the one, never was the one” and “I dodged a bullet / I ran fast right through it / I love myself too much to fight you.” At this moment, Smith accepts the end of their relationship, placing their self-worth above the need to look back on the relationship’s emotionally chaotic end.
In “How Do You Sleep?”, Smith approaches heartbreak with more friction than ever before. They sing “I’m done hating myself for feeling / I’m done crying myself awake.” Despite acting as a refreshing rejection of self-pity, other lyrics like “I am not this desperate, not this crazy” and “I won’t lose like that, I won’t lose myself” sound more like affirmations, encapsulating a novel but empowering fake-it-till-you-make-it sentiment.
Something Smith does well on this album is acknowledging their pain without ever giving up on love itself. Smith’s inability to condemn love might have its roots in the fact that they are unabashedly a romantic at heart. On tracks like “I’m Ready,” featuring Demi Lovato, they remain optimistic and sure that they are deserving of love, with it only being a matter of time. They sing “I’m ready / For someone to love me / For someone to love me.” Lovato’s energetic feature on this track is apt as she is a specialist in self-love anthems.
Still, messier songs like the drunken, delusion-filled track “Dance (’Til You Love Someone Else),” see Smith continue to wonder how much they actually have grown and whether they are really ready for love or still need more time to heal. The LP offers other romantic songs like “My Oasis,” which encapsulates sentiments more similar to infatuation than love, with the beat being particularly infectious with its hypnotic production and Afrobeat influences.
The title track “Love Goes” is the most sonically engaging song on the album. Beginning with a minute-long slow piano interlude, the song transforms halfway through, transitioning into a bold feature from rapper and singer Labyrinth accompanied by the triumphant blare of a trumpet cutting through the music. This choice is a dynamic one that advances the depth of the song by changing the way we perceive Smith’s emotions. From this musical change, the listener then sees the breakup as a victorious moment when there is joy that they chose to exit the relationship.
Still, these ballads can bleed into one another, and on a 17-song album, several images are repeated past the point of being motifs and come closer to the territory of repetitive writing. Smith starts to sound a bit like a broken record throughout the tracks. “Another One,” “To Die For,” and “Fire on Fire,” though strong on their own, blend together with their similar piano keys and saccharine lyrics.
This album’s sequencing is complex but true to life, as it does not showcase a perfect cascade from love to heartbreak to acceptance that one might expect. Instead, “Love Goes” is an agglomeration of all of these emotions as we witness Smith reach revelations of self-love only to fall back into despair and desperation. Yet this push and pull between rebirth and relapse gives the album a sense of realism. “Love Goes” is the true definition of an emotional roller coaster, but with Smith’s honesty and undeniable vocals, it’s one that hardly anyone would want to get off.