Sam Smith sings through the pain on Love Goeson November 20, 2020 at 11:00 pm

It seems crazy to me that the new Love Goes is only Sam Smith’s third album. The UK singer-songwriter made their debut in 2014 with the international breakout In the Lonely Hour, but it feels like they’ve been a go-to modern torch singer for much longer. Perhaps that’s partly due to the strange passage of time during quarantine, where a month can simultaneously feel like a decade and like five minutes. Love Goes doesn’t make it much easier to tell how long it’s been, since on first listen it’s not a clear leap forward from Smith’s previous records; its moods and sounds are similar to those on The Lonely Hour, and its lyrics feel like reexaminations of relationships introduced there. But closer attention reveals that Smith’s perspective on the tangled web of love has evolved over the past six years–the themes haven’t changed, but the takes have matured. Their lush voice commands attention, even through the forest of dance-pop production on “Diamonds,” which Smith created with Swedish songwriter-producers Shellback and Oscar Gorres, aka OzGo (separately and together, the two of them have made music for the likes of Britney Spears and Pink). “Diamonds” isn’t an outlier here: every song inhabits that familiar contemporary pop space where mournful heartbreak mixes with gentle dance beats. The guest artists on Love Goes also help center the album in 2020: Nigerian singer Burna Boy brings welcome flavors of reggaeton and R&B to the otherwise straightforward pop of “My Oasis,” and UK singer-songwriter Labrinth enhances the title track’s majesty with vocal harmonies and symphonic production. Smith skillfully evokes the defensiveness and sadness of the devastated on the album’s minimalist but anthemic opener, “Young”: “I’ve done nothing wrong / I’m young,” they sing, their voice shadowed by synth harmonies that match the exact rhythm of their syllables. And on “Another One,” Smith begins with pointed mockery of an ex (“Oh congratulations / You found the one”) and continues with a raw piece of passive-aggressive advice (“I don’t want him to hurt like me / Just please treat him like he’s someone”). You can’t be so irredeemably cynical that Smith’s heartbreaks won’t resonate at least a little with your own experiences–and whether it’s 2014, 2020, or 2022, you better believe a bunch of us will be out here listening through the tears. v

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