Sam Smith’s third album, which lists lines of their breakup with the 13 reasons why actor Brandon Flynn (in 2019 Smith came out as non-binary and now uses the pronouns they / they), is among the most reasonable breakup albums you’re likely to hear. You’d expect nothing less from a reputedly shy singer who, with his Grammys, Britons, Oscars and Golden Globes, is surely a shoo-in for the price of Nicest Person in Pop. In terms of songwriting, however, kindness and decency don’t get you far. For everyone Love goes“Melancholy at heart on the sleeve, you want her to land a few punches.
“Diamonds” berates a lover’s interest in his money, though eventually Smith decides to take the blame – “I should never be trusted so easily.” The sweet and smothered “For the lover I lost” finds them basking in their ex’s memories despite being “the last thing I need”. In “Breaking Hearts,” Smith paints a moving picture of the insomnia and depression that can go hand in hand with grief.
There are broader themes about learning to love and the impulse to let go and behave badly. In Game 1, “Young,” Smith sings, with the utmost sweetness, about wanting to “run wild, get high a little bit … I want to fight and fall off the table” – all understandable feelings, even though it is. ‘is a Stretch to imagine Smith as the next Pete Doherty, happily grabbing a 12-pack of Tivent and a crack pipe.
Musically, there are choppy moves away from the smooth soul-pop with which they are most closely identified – “Dance (‘Til You Love Someone Else)” is a pleasantly upbeat Robyn-esque club track, while the bold, rumbling bass in the bonus track “How Do You Sleep?”, in which Smith is stung by their lover’s lack of shame, produces an equally energizing slap around the chops. But, for the most part, the vibe here is thoughtful, the ballads plentiful and the pace freezing, with little evidence of the savage abandon the singer would aspire to.
It’s to Smith’s credit, but also their downfall, that they are just too nice.