Sam Smith‘s last album, The Thrill Of It All, was released over three years ago now, but you’d be forgiven if you thought it was a lot more recent than that. For Smith has barely been out of the showbiz news in recent times, whether it be posting selfies of themselves crying during lockdown, or coming out as non-binary and changing their pronouns to they/them (both of which mystifyingly seemed to push Piers Morgan into a very public meltdown).
It’s certainly been a strange year, and it’s one that’s affected Smith particularly hard. As well as the stresses inflicted by a global pandemic, they also split up with their boyfriend (which left Smith “properly heartbroken for the first time”) – an event which courses through the veins of every song on Love Goes.
So this is Smith’s ‘break-up’ album – a genre that’s certainly produced some classic records in the past. The trick with break-up albums is to mix some defiance in with the heartbreak, otherwise you end up slipping into self-pity. It’s a balance that Smith tries to maintain (both Robyn and Beyoncé are cited by Smith as major influences on Love Goes) but not always entirely successfully.
There are some strong moments on Love Goes, however – the single Diamonds is a suitably cathartic disco banger, pulsing with attitude and vitriol as Smith accuses their former lover of only being interested in them for their riches. As you’d expect from a song in collaboration with Swedish producer Shellback (the man behind Justin Timberlake‘s ubiquitous Can’t Stop The Feeling), it’s almost instantly catchy.
Despite the stated influence of Robyn on Love Goes though, it’s the heartbroken ballads that remain at the forefront of the record. If this is an attempt to replicate Adele (and the many brutally honest lyrics aimed at past lovers do recall Smith’s fellow Londoner), the songs just aren’t memorable enough to generate a similar commercial success.
The trouble is that too many tracks seem content to wallow in blandness. Another One reads like an open letter to Smith’s former boyfriend, with talk of “dodging bullets” and references to new lovers and moving on, but there’s no passion in the delivery, the song’s light dance beats sounding more like an accompaniment to buying a new shirt in Topman rather than crying on the dancefloor.
For The Lover I Lost is more successful, a stately piano ballad which stays just on the right side of maudlin, while the Labrinth-assisted title track is one of the rare occasions where Smith attempts some genuine experimentation: sudden tempo changes, big bursts of brass and chanting backing vocalists combine to breathe some life into the song.
At 17 tracks and nearly an hour though, ultimately Love Goes proves to be a fair old slog. So Serious has a nicely arch self-mocking air, but there are too many tracks like Breaking Hearts or My Oasis that just aren’t very memorable. Smith’s voice is as reliably excellent as ever, but you can’t help but wonder how a collaborator like Jack Antonoff or Rostam could have pushed their creative boundaries a bit further. As it is, Love Goes wallows too much in its comfort zone to be truly memorable.