An Anxious Dance Move

Sam won our hearts with “Stay With Me” in 2014. Six years later, he has decided to leave his balladry behind and approach dance-pop. But has he, really? Here’s a review of Sam’s latest album, Love Goes.

Sam Smith quickly became the crown prince of ballads when he debuted with the heart-wrenching “Stay With Me” in 2014. Following up with the gospel-infused hit ballad “Too Good At Goodbye” in 2017, the London-born singer hinted a move towards hook-filled pop music, something he further established with the singles preceding his new album Love Goes: the funky Normani collab “Dancing With A Stranger,” the up-tempo Chris Harris collab “Promises,” the vibrating “How Do You Sleep?,” and the dance-pop of the Demi Lovato collab “I’m Ready” all appear as bonus material to the original LP. None of these singles are especially sensational or memorable, but rather pretty generic and relatively average pop-songs. Unfortunately, the same verdict goes for the previously unheard dance-pop tunes that Sam has put together for the first part of this album.

The album opens with the almost-acapella “Young,” in which Sam Smith expresses his limited desires of youth (“can’t you see that all I wanna do/is get a little wild/get a little high/kiss a hundred boys and not feel like I’m tied to them”), but already on the second track, “Diamonds,” Smith approaches his new sound, moving away the slow ballads of his past to instead approach a funky, danceable groove for a break-up anthem that works just fine as a single. This song is followed by the similarly themed “Another One.” They are both decent songs that seemingly reveal Smith’s thoughts upon his 2018 break-up with 13 Reasons Why star Brandon Flynn, but they are also both victims of what has been the biggest objection towards Smith’s previous albums: they are not especially exciting or innovative. And when Afrobeat-rapper Burna Boy appears on “My Oasis,” it is considerably more mumbling and less energetic than what he demonstrated on his album Twice As Tall earlier this year. “So Serious” opens with the crowd-pleasing line “put your hands in the air if you ever get sad like me,” but I can’t stop thinking about where the instrumental intro is taken from. “Dance (‘Til You Love Someone Else)” could have been a contribution to the Eurovision Song Contest (although, I must admit, one with an unusually good falsetto section). In conclusion, Smith’s take on dance-pop is a decent but far from spectacular story that feels somewhat forced.

On the second part of the album, Smith returns to safe ground with a set of well-sung piano ballads that are probably even less sensational than the dance-pop from the first side but that will probably appeal to the fans who are not convinced by Sam Smith’s new direction. The acoustic “Kids Again” is a nice ending to a record that is largely about coming to terms with personal maturing with a tender slide guitar that finally brings us to an unexpected moment of pleasure. 

As a whole, Love Goes is a highly listenable but desperately unexciting record. The amount of piano ballads indicates a certain degree of uncertainty from Sam to truly give up the style that once made him famous, and this anxiety makes the album feel somewhat unfocused and dispassionate. If this album turns out to become a big hit, we can look forward to a more confident and self-assured Sam in the future. If it doesn’t, Sam will probably return to his piano full-time, and that wouldn’t be that much of a loss either.

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