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.
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’.
Noah and the Whale – The First Days of Spring (2009): The distinct lack of female vocals in the English 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’.
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.
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.
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.