Sam Smith’s “Love Goes”: a canvas of experimentation

By Nikita Senthil (’23) | November 16, 2020

Art by Sofia Ruiz (’22)

Entertainment industries were among those heavily impacted by the pandemic, some initially booming, such as streaming services, while others halted abruptly. Recording artists saw tours cancelled, and those who were lucky enough to have a finished album on the way found themselves postponing release dates for fear of insensitivity amidst the suffering. Sam Smith was among the latter, not only postponing the release of their album far past the original date of June 2020, but also renaming the album from To Die For to Love Goes for the same reason. Preceding its release in late October, Smith admitted that Love Goes was their first “proper” heartbreak album, and claimed that the album would be a departure from their older, ballad-inspired music and towards a more pop feel. Nonetheless, some music analysts contend that Love Goes is ultimately an exploration of both Smith’s voice and identity at once. 

I have to say, I agree. The opening track, “Young,” along with “Diamonds” (released ahead of the album), “My Oasis,” “So Serious,” and “Kids Again” are very clearly a departure from Smith’s characteristic style, but more importantly, they still work well — perhaps even better — with Smith’s recognizable voice. The song “Young” contains a haunting melody and is almost sung a capella, making it apparent to the listener that this album will not be like any other. The second song, “Diamonds,” is very blatantly upbeat pop, urging the listener to get up, abandon all restraint, and dance. In the accompanying music video, Smith does just that, appearing liberated and peaceful as they twirl confidently in a dark house. 

In other songs, such as “For the Lover that I Lost,” Smith regresses to their older style, which is not entirely bad. Whenever artists decide to transition to another genre of music or simply experiment with different genres, as Smith appears to be doing, it’s always a good idea to maintain some of their older style as a safety net. 

Ironically, the title track “Love Goes” has not received as much positive attention. Jon Dolan from Rolling Stone claims, “‘Love Goes’ doesn’t quite have overwhelming moments to match the titanic power of [Smith’s] signature hits like ‘Latch’… In some ways, that’s okay. There’s a gracious ease to even the most sweeping song.” 

“Love Goes” follows the album’s recurring theme of experimentation, with over a minute dedicated solely to a piano instrumental. The rest of the song, which features Labrinth, is somewhat reminiscent of the overpowering marching-band instrumentals characteristic of Panic! At the Disco. 

Another relatively mediocre song is “Dance (‘Til You Love Someone Else),” which is distant from Smith’s comfort zone making it somewhat uncomfortable to listen to, especially the strained high notes. The album, as a whole, has a smooth and polished feel that unfortunately blocks the openness and intimacy that originally drew listeners to Smith’s distinctive voice. Jon Pareles from The New York Times concurs, claiming that “[e]ach song feels elaborately hewed.” 

Overall, Love Goes lacks any outstanding songs other than the hits released prior to the album. Despite this, the album manages to preserve some vulnerability and nostalgia despite the upbeat music and dance-pop feels. Leah Greenblatt from Entertainment Weekly concludes, “It’s the prettily composed ballads — wounded, swooning, steeped in regret — that tend to lead… Even at its most synth-driven and strobe-lit… the record remains rooted in a sort of open-vein vulnerability, the bruised, tender manifesto of a Kid Who Cares Too Much.” The album as a whole is not united by a single apparent theme; this lack of cohesion further confirms that Smith took this as an opportunity to experiment with new genres and styles of music. 

Because the earliest song on the album was released two years ago, the album may even serve as a way to document the singer’s growth. In an interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, Smith appears to realize this: “I feel super emotional about [the album] because… the last two years have been a really, really mad time of experimentation, of finding myself with my gender expression, with so much that has happened the last two years. It’s captured in this music.” As a fan of both the person and the singer, I, for one, am excited to witness Smith’s continued exploration of their identity through music.

Categories: Entertainment

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