Kayne West – 808s & Heartbreak (2008): In its production and vocals (namely the explicit and extensive use of Auto-Tune), West’s fourth studio album marked a major change in his musical trajectory. The album features West in a predominantly singing role rather than his usual rapping, with dominant themes of despair and dejection. Emotional turmoil had affected West’s musical output after the death of his mother due to complications in cosmetic surgery in 2007, as well as the breaking off of his engagement to Alexis Phifer.
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2007): Suffering a double blow in the form of a breakup from his girlfriend and a split from his band, singer-songwriter Justin Vernon retreated to a secluded cabin in Wisconsin for three months to lick his wounds and write minimalist, melancholic music for his debut album. Recorded on rudimentary equipment, the album received universally positive reviews for its honest, simple style.
Noah and the Whale – The First Days of Spring (2009): The distinct lack of female vocals in the band’s second studio album is an echo of the departure of singer Laura Marling, with whom lead singer Charlie Fink had had a relationship. The album was met with very positive reviews and the songs are layered and powerful, with telling titles such as ‘I Have Nothing’, ‘My Broken Heart’ and ‘My Door is Always Open’.
Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks (1975): Dylan is world-weary and poetically masterful in his fifteenth studio album, usually interpreted to have been inspired by the chaotic breakdown of his first marriage (although Dylan himself has denied the album’s connection with his personal life). Its lyrics and tone are artfully dismayed, and the production, although labelled ‘shoddy’ by Dylan’s contemporary critics, is consistent with Dylan’s often-minimalistic musical style. Despite receiving mixed reviews at the time, over the years critics have come to see it as one of Dylan’s greatest albums.
Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot out the Lights (1982): This was the sixth and final album by British husband-and-wife folk rock duo Richard and Linda Thompson, and their contrasting vocals, passionate delivery and Richard’s guitar make for wonderful listening. By the time it was released, the couple’s marriage was over, and the single, ‘Shoot out the Lights’, can be read as a metaphor for struggling matrimony. It has been hailed as the best thing the pair ever produced.
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1977): Considered to be one of the best albums of all time, ‘Rumours’ is dark with interpersonal disharmony. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were reaching the end of their perpetually tempestuous relationship, and founding members John and Christine McVie had separated after eight years of marriage. Despite emotional sacrifices – or, more probably, because of them – the songs which comprise the album are passionate, brilliant and all worthy of release as singles. Buckingham’s songwriting is at its best in the emotionally-charged ‘Go Your Own Way’, the stinging ‘Second Hand News’ and the harsh harmonies he shares with Nicks in ‘The Chain’ and ‘Never Going Back Again’.
The Beatles – Abbey Road (1969): With an oft-disputed chronological position as the final Beatles album, ‘Abbey Road’ is not a breakup album in the conventional sense but contains all the signs of a band dissolving into freefall. Tensions were running high between band members over various financial and legal disputes, and despite the musical consistency between songs, it feels disjointed and unfinished. The impending breakdown of band relations is captured in perfect musical discord, with tracks like the fragmented ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’, the drag of emotional Beatles-baggage in ‘Carry That Weight’ and the obvious farewell finale ‘The End’.
Coldplay – Ghost Stories (2014): Coldplay frontman Chris Martin announced a ‘conscious uncoupling’ from his wife Gwyneth Paltrow earlier this year, and ‘Ghost Stories’, the band’s sixth studio album, is the aptly haunting result. Although it’s very much a concept album, there’s a standout song in ‘Another’s Arms’ – especially if you listen to live versions of it, where the piano is more prominent. Fans have been disappointed by the absence of obvious hits, but as its title suggests, this album tells a story: its tracks are not designed to be heard in isolation.
Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight (2008): This is the second studio album from the Scottish indie rock band, and its confessional style has received much positive praise. Highlights include ‘The Modern Leper’, which energetically traces the pain of a breakup through the metaphor of lost limbs, and the waltzing, instrumentally layered track ‘Good Arms vs. Bad Arms’. Songwriter Scott Hutchison’s Scottish accent remains pleasingly audible throughout the album.
Lykke Li – I Never Learn (2014): After experiencing what Li has described has ‘the biggest breakup of her life’, she fled to Los Angeles and channelled her emotion to eventually produce this record, although that wasn’t her original intention. Her third studio album, it’s a compelling listen from the Swede that emanates melancholy and wistfulness.
Pete Fij & Terry Bickers – Broken Heart Surgery (2014): Edging out of musical dormancy, this very recent release from the duo has been a decade in the making and the finished result is a work of exquisitely melancholic, stripped-down songwriting. Pete Fij, of British alternative bands Adorable and Polak fame, pens remarkable lyrics while Bickers, best known as a member of the rock bands The House of Love and Levitation, employs intricate acoustic guitar to embellish Fij’s tracks. The title of this album reveals its mournful subject, the product of Fij’s split with his then-partner.
Adele – 21: Released in early 2011, this album signified Adele’s return to the charts three years after her debut album, ‘19’, was released to positive reviews. Her second studio album, ‘21’ was inspired by the disintegration of her relationship, spawning pwerful singles such as ‘Rolling in the Deep’ and ‘Someone Like You’. ‘21’ rocketed the young musician into international stardom and is the UK’s bestselling album of the 21st century.