REVIEW: Sam Smith’s “Love Goes” succumbs to overproduction

The album’s few dance tracks are the highlight while its excess of ballads falls flat.

It’s nearly impossible to remember the landscape of 2014 pop music without thinking of Sam Smith’s voice soaring over the chorus of their hit single, “Stay With Me.” Nothing so memorable has come from the singer since then, despite their release of 2017 album “The Thrill of it All.”

Oct. 30 saw the release of “Love Goes:” another record with a heavy focus on heartbreak that, for the most part, stays inside Smith’s clearly defined musical boundaries. The nonbinary singer doesn’t shy away from LGBTQ content in their songs, but they often fall prey to the appeal of radio-ready tunes that lack feeling.

The first track of the album, “Young,” puts the singer’s velvety voice front and center in a vocals-only ballad. “All I wanna do is/Get a little wild, get a little high/Kiss a hundred boys…” cries Smith mournfully through an empty background, backed only by the echo of their own voice. This is it — the kind of explicitly queer anthem the world needs from Smith — but its energy falls victim to the song’s acapella format.

“Diamonds” picks up the pace. It’s a daringly dark dance-pop tune with a defiant tone that’s likely the best song on the album. The build to the first beat drop is sparse but intense, and when the chorus hits, the urge to dance is infectious. The later track “Dance (‘Til You Love Someone Else)” is the flip side of the same coin, mirroring the club vibe of “Diamonds” in a different minor key while showing off Smith’s vocal range. “Love Goes” is a breakup album to the core, but the few dance tracks are a welcome addition.

The ballads, where Smith typically lets their voice wander freely, are more controlled. “Another One,” with its twinkling synth soundscape, is overproduced, factoring in a stale beat and a chorus devoid of the raw emotion that the lyrics aim for. It’s difficult to connect emotionally with “Breaking Hearts,” an anguished track that moves at an unfortunately slow pace.

“Love Goes” is full of lyrics that convey an abundance of pain. Smith’s voice is rich, built for radio, and there’s something about these ballads that makes us crave a release. If the singer simply pushed the production of the album to the side and poured their heartbreak into their voice, it might elicit emotion from the listener, too. But as it stands, Smith does not test any boundaries, allowing the instrumentals to move the album forward rather than their voice.

I had hoped for more from Smith ever since their early collaboration with Disclosure on “Latch.” On “For the Lover That I Lost,” my personal favorite on “Love Goes,” there’s a shimmering quality to their voice that almost mimics their untethered, roaming belt on “Latch,” but I just couldn’t vibe with the contrived rhyme scheme and languishing chorus.

Perhaps unintentionally, “Love Goes” is most effective on tracks like “Diamonds” and “Dance (‘Til You Love Someone Else),” which are best described as “gay club” music (and really good gay club music, at that). It’s hard to write a breakup album, though, without an element of realness or raw pain. If Smith is feeling those emotions, they fail to share them with their audience. “Love Goes” might have moderate critical success, but it never accomplishes the clarity and power of a track like “Stay With Me.”

Edited by Chloe Konrad |

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