“I wanna be wild and young, and not be afraid to lose,” Sam Smith coos in the opening line of their long reworked third studio album Love Goes. The dance pop record, originally titled To Die For, is essentially a breakup album explored through the theme of rebirth and re-acclamating with oneself.
Like Lorde’s Melodrama and Taylor Swift’s Red before it, the album finds enlightenment in heartbreak. The biggest issue with the project isn’t that its themes are familiar, it’s that Smith’s self actualization comes in the form of their weakest artistry to date. The bulk of the record feels so commonplace it only beckons listeners to reassemble with Smith’s past work. With each wave, it’s pulled in a new sonic direction, none of which stick the landing enough to dazzle.
Opening with “Youth,” Love Goes has a clear narrative of love lost. Smith’s heartbreak is well worn in the intro as they yearn for the next phase of their life. Before they find it, they succumb to memories with bitter hindsight on standout “Diamonds” and “Another One.” Their partner, shallow and quick to move on, has done a number on the pop crooner.
The remaining story of the album is Smith’s crawl back to themself, gluing their soul back together to new sounds. Similar to Lorde’s “Green Light,” they find solace on the dance floor and in the forms of new bodies and friends. If only this profound realization was reflected in a stronger, more unified production.
The majority of the songs on Love Goes play it extremely safe. On “So Serious,” Smith reflects on their lack of freedom, taking things overly personal. It’s set to a backdrop of snaps and claps that, if played at a low volume, may lay listeners to sleep. Instantly forgettable, the track lacks substance. Similar is the often whispered vocal of “Breaking Hearts.” Another song of losing love and the one sided aftermath Smith experiences, it too lacks conviction and singularity.
Perhaps most disappointing is the Labrinth assisted title track. In a year when Labrinth simply never misses (listen to the award winning Euphoria score immediately), the single is exactly that. What is meant to be the cathartic climax of a once in a lifetime love, it leaves listeners with little more than a shrug.
There are moments of sparkle within the album. One of the strongest moments comes in “Dance (‘Til You Love Someone Else).” The track is one of the few actually convincing moments of Smiths newly established sound. Applying the popular UK sound found in house pop like Calvin Harris’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” the song effectively supports its confident lyricism.
Unsurprisingly, Smith shines brightest when they slow down the party with the ballad “For The Lover That I Lost.” It’s a rare glimpse of the artist fans have come to love over the years. Their voice is truly once in a generation, and it couldn’t be more apparent than on this gem of a deep cut.
At 11 tracks, the standard edition of the album closes with “Kids Again.” A Troye Sivan esque track reveals a still hurt, but more matured Smith. Its another glimpse of the sound they were going for in constructing the project.
The biggest flaw of the record is its directionless structure. Where Taylor Swift’s Red lightsped through genres through the lens of the emotional process, Love Goes fails to justify its sonic incoherence. Some of the strongest statements lay in the deluxe tracks released across the last year and a half, namely “Dancing With a Stranger” and “To Die For.”
If nothing more, Love Goes shows an artist willing and committed to evolving. Whatever’s next, Smith has the potential to grow into whatever they want to become next.