Sam Smith, "Love Goes" (Capitol)
"Put your hands in the air if you sometimes ever get sad like me," Smith urges in "So Serious," one of the triumphantly forlorn songs on their third studio album. Romance is all that matters in Smith's musical universe. Love is all-important and all-consuming, even — perhaps especially — when it's going wrong. Obsession prevails, even more than passion.
Smith's voice is a prodigious instrument: a pearly, androgynous croon, at once powerful and defenseless. On "Love Goes" it's deployed, as usual, to reflect on loneliness, longing and regret. Yet more than ever, Smith's music is aware that even as the songs explore being alone, a mass audience is listening. The sound of "Love Goes" is sweeping and luxurious: intimacy blown up to cinematic scale.
On "Love Goes," Smith collaborated with his frequent writing partner James Napier as well as Scandinavian pop experts like Stargate and Guy Lawrence from dance-music duo Disclosure. They built neatly structured pop tracks that open up arena-sized reverberations and sometimes beckon toward the dance floor.
Many of Smith's new songs also stir in a strong new emotion: the resentment of a lover betrayed. The bile and the beat cut through the self-pity, although it wouldn't be a Sam Smith album without a good wallow or five. "Breaking Hearts" is one of them. A Sam Cooke-tinged soul hymn, it mourns through its recriminations. In "Another One," Smith sings to an ex with honeyed sarcasm and sounds relieved that "I dodged a bullet."
"Diamonds" directly indicts an ex whose intentions turned out to be purely materialistic. The beat places the song in the lineage of angry disco kiss-offs like Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," yet there's also an ache in Smith's voice, admitting to some self-deception.
The title song is a preemptive strike, a breakup before things get too serious. It's all just a handful of instruments and an intimate vocal until, suddenly, it's not. The personal interaction suddenly becomes a public display, with the power of pop.
Jon Pareles, New York Times
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