English singer Sam Smith has taken us on many emotional journeys over their nearly eight years in the pop music industry. Whether it was showing off their brilliant vocal abilities from their first single “Lay Me Down” in 2012 or becoming an iconic voice of the LGBTQ+ community, Smith has done nothing but impress throughout their career. And the October 30th release of their latest album Love Goes impresses us yet again.
Sam Smith has come a long way to bring audiences the long-awaited project Love Goes, with two previous studio albums to show for their raw talent. Their first album In the Lonely Hour, released in 2014, has a bluesy R&B feel that Smith utilizes to portray complex emotions of heartbreak. This theme is perfectly exhibited through the album’s perhaps most popular single, “Stay With Me,” a soulful ballad begging someone not to leave despite how clear it is that the relationship won’t end well. More songs like “Good Thing” and “Leave Your Lover” tell the story of someone struggling to love, yet constantly finding themselves left alone in the cold. But these aren’t just simple melancholy melodies with pianos in the background. In “Good Thing,” Smith is accompanied by beautiful violins and demonstrates their ability to climb to higher ranges masterfully. “Leave Your Lover” shows this as well, but also gives Smith a chance to tell a truly heartbreaking story, maintaining a somber tone throughout the lyrical and vocal aspects of the track. The album is the perfect mood music for a good cry, or just a wonderful collection of songs to hear a pop singer who truly can sing.
Three years later, Smith released The Thrill of It All, another talent-packed and powerful album. The project follows a similar genre of music, but experiments with more jazzy motifs and gospel choir style background vocals in most tracks. What sets this project apart from their first, however, is the visible amount of emotional growth the artist experienced before returning to the studio. The lyrics are more honest and emotional as they detail accepting one’s identity and moving on from the self-hatred that can come from toxic relationships. One such dynamic track, “HIM,” describes the fear of coming out and what it’s like to have a love of which society doesn’t approve. While In The Lonely Hour would have just focused on the sadness of such emotions, The Thrill of It All chooses to find freedom in addressing the scary and uncomfortable parts of love. “One Last Song” and “Midnight Train” make peace with the fact that a relationship has ended, if unfortunately, because it will allow the two people to be free from the constant “shades of blue” that followed them everywhere. Smith is no longer just a ballad singer struggling with loneliness. They are ready to step out and step forward as a musician and person to explore just how Love Goes.
And three years later again, here we are. A two-disc album at our fingertips, just waiting to take our ears and our hearts on yet another journey. So let’s put on our headphones (seriously, you’ll want headphones for this one, especially the title track) and press play.
Love Goes begins with “Young,” a simply beautiful, raw track of just Sam’s voice and some subtle synthesizer background. It acts as a prelude for the rest of the album as you peacefully sway along to the lyrics encouraging free love and youthful bliss. By the next track, “Diamonds,” Smith is sticking to the same lyrical theme of feeling freedom, but now with a catchy electro-pop style. It’s a seamless and enjoyable transition from one song to the next, and Smith skillfully entices us with a song that is impossible to not want to dance to as they continue explaining the joy of outsmarting a heartbreak. But as much as we try to kid ourselves that the toxic relationship doesn’t take up space in our minds, “Another One” enters just in time to remind us that there will still be a lingering jealousy and pain of watching a past lover move on with someone else. Yet, while Smith’s past albums would have accompanied their revelations that “I’m not the one / never was the one” with melancholy piano melodies, this track instead accompanies the lines with uplifting electronic embellishments. The song maintains a skillful balance between showcasing Smith’s vocal talents and their ability to experiment within different pop genres and still tell a lyrical story.
The middle section of the album is filled with more simultaneously dance-able and lyrically “deep” songs, shifting Smith’s presence to be in less of an R&B style, but rather a pop genre. The section features a collaboration between Sam and Burna Boy in “My Oasis” that, while still exciting and done well, is probably the weaker track of the album. The song begins with a unique vibraphone-guitar string melody, but is then met with a bass ostinato that doesn’t quite fit. Sam performs excellently (as usual), as does Burna Boy, but the latter’s final verse is not much more than several seconds of him rap-singing inaudible lyrics. It’s not a throwaway track, but it pales in comparison to the other songs of the album that more successfully experiment with different pop motifs and styles.
Approaching the end of disc one, Smith surprises us again by returning to their R&B roots for three back to back piano-based and vocally-focused tracks. “For The Lover That I Lost” will, fair warning, make your eyes tingle with tears as Smith mourns a love that was painful and better off finished, yet still full of bittersweet memories. Violins sneak in on the bridge without you even realizing, until you’re alone again with Sam and the piano. The string instruments seem to mirror a love leaving as quickly as it appeared. After you finish wiping your eyes, Smith follows this track with some of the most beautiful melodies on the record. “While you were busy breaking hearts I was busy breaking / I was giving all my love / you were busy taking,” they sing in “Breaking Hearts,” a song at a slightly faster tempo, but still at the same emotional intensity as the previous track. These tracks give us a taste of Sam’s past projects but are still strikingly more mature, as there’s a note of difference that says Sam is no longer here to wallow but has come to terms with the decisions that cause heartbreaks.
This brings us to the title track of the project. It’s another collaboration, this time with singer-songwriter Labrinth. Initially, it seemed odd to name a project after a song that was a shared effort with another artist, but in this case, it was definitely the right choice. The song begins, as some previous tracks do, once again a smooth piano melody. But this one lingers and is not cut off by voices too soon. It’s something you can close your eyes to for a moment and truly enjoy as a musical idea (one that is laying the foundation for the rest of the song — wait for the chorus!). Then, heartbeat-like bass interruptions meet the melody. As Labrinth and Smith eventually begin singing, layers of background music join them and mold themselves together into a surprisingly perfect sound. Trumpets, cymbals, timpani, synthesizer. Something new jumps out every time. Overall, it’s a beautifully fitting title track because it relies on the music as a whole and not just the artist. It’s a a mini-symphony and a big piece of Smith’s heart.
The final track “Kids Again,” rounds out disc one as a final song that seems out of place at first. It doesn’t top the masterpiece of “Love Goes,” but Smith does not intend for it to do so. It’s nostalgia, remorse, regret. It’s coming down after the high of experiencing love. Because the time that passed is still gone, even if you deny the thought with a shield of (fleeting) youth. This portion of the album thus brings the journey full-circle, as “Young” begins with the somewhat naive notion that youthful bliss is no waste of time. And while this may be true, “Kids Again” stands as a somber reminder that despite the “way we changed the world,” our own lives are partially given away to these times of youth without consequences. The track and disc end powerfully but quietly with Sam breathless, mid-phrase, leaving us wondering what it means for us that some of our innocence is forever gone.
The second disc is somewhat of a “bonus” collection of tracks, so to speak. These songs have been released over the past three years, and perhaps frequented your favorite pop radio stations, but were without an album to call home until now. Featured are some more of Smith’s collaborations, such as “Dancing With A Stranger” with Normani, a song that is sure to have “Look what you made me do / I’m with somebody new” running through your head all day long after one listen. The disc also includes some of Smith’s solo singles as well, like the experimental pop hit “How Do You Sleep?” that showcased Sam’s abilities in more trap-based music when it was released in 2019. For fans, the second disc is nothing they haven’t seen before, but casual listeners may find themselves with a new favorite dance-pop song after listening through the six tracks.
Love Goes is a wonderfully composed album, both musically and structurally. Each song is short and sweet, relying on its strength as a statement to stand out. Tracks don’t have choruses repeating to the point of overkill or over dramatic bridges to take up an extra 45 seconds. It’s the simplicity of the songs that make them even more fun to listen to again and again. At the end of the hour one spends listening to Smith’s project, they emerge understanding a bit deeper how love goes. The pain, yes, but also the resilience that is possible with time. It’s an album that fits perfectly with current times as well, as many of us struggle with watching the world spin too fast and harm too many people. Yet, Love Goes promises subtly that with time comes healing, and with healing comes understanding. We don’t have to panic that we’ll never be “Kids Again,” but we can find beauty in the waiting while we are “Young.”
Elizabeth Dyer is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl